Reprinted with permission from International Affairs (London) Vol. 78, no. 2, 2002
One of the most important results of the attacks of 11 September 2001 has been a shift by the United States towards becoming a world hegemon of a kind more attached to the status quo, interested in the preservation of existing states and of certain basic elements of the existing international order. This change is linked to a certain diminution of what I have called the 'Wilhelmine' aspects of contemporary American policy-making: the inability to create a hierarchy of national priorities and interests coupled with a restless global ambition-resulting in a dangerous tendency to tread heavily and simultaneously on a wide range of international toes. (1)
This shift, and the establishment of a clearer set of US priorities, result from the revelation of the danger represented by Al-Qa'ida and similar groups operating outside and below the existing state system-whereas before 11 September, most of the attention of the US security establishment was focused on the alleged threats from major rival states (notably China and Russia). Because such revolutionary terrorist groups pose not only a terrorist but a revolutionary and/or separatist threat to many states around the world (including the Muslim world), the attacks and the US response to them seemed in the wake of 11 September to open up the possibility of a new era of limited cooperation among the world's major states.
This was a chance which had seemed on hand at the end of the Cold War, and which was then largely missed by the West in general and the United States in particular. In late 1991, the future seemed to promise a truly astonishing combined fulfilment of American, Westphalian and liberal internationalist dreams. Already, in 1989, central Europe had been liberated from Soviet domination and communist rule. Even before its collapse, the Soviet Union had abandoned its geopolitical positions in Latin America, Africa, and most of Asia and the Middle East, and its support for anti-American revolutionary movements. Not just the threat to US soil, but any threat to the US sphere of influence in Latin America was liquidated for all foreseeable time. With the disappearance of their superpower backer, hard-line Arab states ceased to pose an existential threat to Israel.
For as far ahead as anyone could see, the United States was established in a position of global dominance with no parallel in history, exceeding even that of the British empire in the nineteenth century. The collapse of the Soviet Union had removed the only global challenger to US power. US military spending soon equalled that of the next six states put together-and four of those were US allies. The Chinese economy was growing fast, but as long as the Taiwan issue could be managed, there seemed no reason to fear a clash. In any case, US technological supremacy at sea and in the air made Taiwan secure for the foreseeable future. Nor was there any reason to think that the Chinese would ever aim at more than limited dominance in their own region-and even that would be naturally balanced by the tendency of Japan and other states to lean in the other direction.
Equally importantly, Western-defined modern capitalist values-and even, to a lesser extent, those of democracy-were in a position of overwhelming ideological supremacy. With the fall of communism, alternative ideologies of modernization had simply been eliminated. The only serious challenge to this path could come-as it now appears to be doing-not from an alternative strategy of modernization, but from its categorical rejection in the name of radical religion. The governing elites of China, and the economic elites of Russia, were developing strong class interests in the peaceful maintenance of the world market economy. In the Chinese case, this was linked to the dependence of China's new industries on access to US markets.
As Francis Fukuyama noted in 'The End of History', this was a development with few historical parallels, and tremendously positive. Given the enormous material, cultural and political prestige of the West, it seemed likely that Western values would spread naturally without any great need for strong Western activism in deliberately instilling them. Fukuyama was wrong, of course, in suggesting that this could last for ever; but he seemed right to think that it could last a long time by historical standards.
Finally, by the standards of any previous culture, the culture of global capitalism was at heart profoundly unmilitary. This was a profound difference from the pre-1914 order, when the European imperial elites certainly shared most values-unfortunately including those of militarism and territorial expansion.
Given all this, there seemed no need at all for continued US geopolitical activism directed against the interests of other major states, and a strong possibility that the United States could act as a benign and largely unchallenged hegemon. There even seemed a chance-absurdly naïve though this now seems-that a really significant proportion of the money previously spent on arms would now go to alleviate a range of issues of international concern, such as global warming, and that local civil wars could be solved by international consensus. There also seemed a possibility of a real, if slow and incremental, growth in the effectiveness of the international legal order.
A full discussion of why this did not happen lies beyond the scope of this article, but it should be clear from the events of the 1990s that the United States inherited from its traditions, and still more from the Cold War, a set of structures and attitudes which made it very difficult for it to act as a 'satisfied' power and therefore as a hegemon by consensus. (2) The combination of the expansion of US geopolitical influence, support for military interventions and highly selective promotion of democratic revolution made the United States appear extremely menacing to any state it viewed as a rival.
The attacks of 11 September, and the US and international response to them, gave the United States a new chance to act as a consensual hegemon, above all because of the uniting nature of the radical Islamist threat as far as the major states of Eurasia are concerned. In its first centuries, Islam expanded to cover much of the continent. During its centuries of retreat, other empires (west European, Russian and Chinese) and their successor states or protégés then expanded to incorporate huge Muslim territories. In recent decades the geographical scope of Islam has been extended still further, both by conversion (especially in Africa) and by historically unprecedented emigration to the West.
As a result, a great range of states, including Russia, China, the main European countries and of course India all see Sunni Islamist radicalism as posing a danger of terrorism, separatism or both. In creating a kind of Islamist International, involved in rebellions from Algeria to Chinese Turkestan, Osama bin Laden and his allies doubtless thought they were achieving a great success; but what they have in fact done is to give much of the world an interest in seeing them destroyed. Even South Africa has a problem with extremist groups among the Muslim minority of the Cape Province. All, therefore, have an interest in co-operating against this Sunni radicalism. (International concerns about Shia radicalism are more limited. In the first place, Shia minorities in Russia, China,
western Europe and north Africa are relatively insignificant, and cannot provide a basis for serious threats; second, since 1996 Shia- and Iranian-backed violence seems to have been restricted to Lebanon and Israel.)
At the level of police work against narrowly defined terrorist groups, this near-global co-operation is likely to continue-under the surface at least-for a long time to come. However, the 'coalition against terrorism', and the hopes for a new era of wider international harmony, are rendered fragile by two aspects of the US approach to the world. The first is the largely unconditional nature of US support for Israel, and how far this endangers other US allies. The second relates to the very limited nature of the US shift concerning basic attitudes to other states, and to adjusting US policies to suit their views.
Rather than signalling a radically new departure on the part of the US, the recent shift in approach is only another lurch in the perennial seesaw motion of US policy, and US attitudes, between status quo and revolutionary positions. And though it has led to a considerable reduction in overt US hostility to Russia and China, from a whole set of actions since 11 September it is clear that-on the part of most of the Bush administration, at least-it implies no greater desire for genuine international co-operation, except in the field of anti-terrorism (and of course, with qualifications, in international trade and finance); no willingness to sacrifice any real or perceived US interests for the sake of such cooperation; no interest in formal international agreements which will in any way limit US freedom of action; and no readiness to heed even a near-unanimous opinion of the 'international community' on any point over which the US administration, for whatever reason disagrees. (3) In particular, the 'war against terrorism' has helped sweep even the most limited discussion of global warming out of the US media and politics, despite the very high importance given to it by Europe. These attitudes on the part of the Bush administration were strongly apparent in the President's State of the Union address on 30 January 2002.
In the months after 11 September, even America's closest British ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair-on whom the US administration and media have lavished the most effusive praise (4) - received a series of severe snubs from the United States concerning Palestinian statehood, NATO relations with Russia, detente with Iran and the abrogation of the ABM Treaty. On other issues, like missile defence and the early expansion of NATO to the Baltic states, the British government has avoided public humiliation by pretending-completely falsely-that it had always supported these moves.
In the words of Grigory Yavlinsky, the most pro-Western of all Russian
"The essence of this [US administration] philosophy is the United States' striving to free itself from any limitations imposed by international agreements, including agreements with allies, in the field of arms control and other security areas. This is no longer criticism of the obsolete 1972 ABM Treaty, but rejection in principle of any possible treaties in the field of international security. It is really difficult to build anything reliable on such a basis for a long period." (5)
Of course, future US administrations may not be as harshly nationalist as the present one; but it would be unwise to bank on this. A key problem in this regard is that while the United States may now feel more vulnerable, and therefore in need of allies, at the same time existing 'unilateralist' attitudes have been strengthened still further by that most potent of admixtures to any nationalist brew, a strong sense of unique and righteous victimhood.
Much of the international response to 11 September is equally conditional. In so far as it exists, the 'coalition against terrorism' is a thoroughly Westphalian one. It has some echoes of the anti-revolutionary Holy Alliance of 1815 and after, with the United States playing the role of Nicholas I's Russia and Metternich's Austria combined. It is an alliance between states for the protection of states.
It is important to remember this key statist element in the new US strategic consciousness, given the tendency of certain politicians and commentators to renew some of the 'moral imperialist' language of the 1990s, used especially at the time of the Kosovo war. This led not only to arguments that moral imperatives of 'humanitarian intervention' (invariably seen as Western-led) trumped national sovereignty and international law, but even to suggestions that NGOs were emerging as somehow equal in power to states on the international scene, and should be treated as such. (6)
Of course, economic and humanitarian assistance will have a subsidiary role in US and Western strategy (especially in the wake of US military operations), but the 'coalition against terrorism' is first and foremost a policemen's association. As with the Holy Alliance, its enemies are not other states-unless one of them suffers a revolution and begins to support revolution beyond its borders, in which case there may be a military intervention to restore order. As with the Holy Alliance, the intervention will probably be by one major state, but with the others lending active or tacit support.
It is an alliance for the repression of revolutionaries and terrorists-today, Sunni Islamist revolutionary terrorists, and perhaps in future terrorist groups from other backgrounds as well (ethnic separatist or even radical ecological groups, perhaps), in so far as these threaten different states around the world and attack the existing international order. In general, states may become more hostile to terrorism in general, whereas in the past they may have sympathized with some forms. For example, it is likely that in the unfortunate event that the Northern Ireland peace process collapses and the IRA returns to terrorism, US administrations will take a less tolerant view of IRA activities in the United States than they were wont to do in the past.
It may be remembered in this context that a key feature of the 1648 Westphalia settlement itself was that rival European states ceased to support attempts at domestic religious revolution, assassination and conversion-or in their view, subversion-on each others' territory (the Thirty Years War had begun with an attempt at religiously inspired separatist revolution in the Habsburg kingdom of Bohemia). (7) This limitation made the European wars of the eighteenth century vastly more limited and less destructive than the religious wars of the seventeenth-until the French Revolution reintroduced revolutionary ideology into the international mix.
The membership of the 'coalition against terrorism', the nature of some of the fighting in Afghanistan, and US moves elsewhere in the world imply future US acquiescence or active participation in some pretty nasty local conflicts, campaigns of military and/or police repression, and even state terror. This marks a return to the supportive approach of the United States during the Cold War towards regimes engaged in the repression of alleged 'communist' oppositions- a tendency that faded somewhat after the end of the Cold War, though it was still applied to really key US allies like Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
As during the Cold War, certain regimes-especially in the former Soviet Union-are already using this as a carte blanche to increase the repression of Sunni Islamist and oppositionist groups in general. And, again as in the Cold War, in some areas this may actually strengthen the Islamist camp. How far this will lead to a renewal of Cold War debates concerning US implication in atrocities is an open question. Both because of 11 September and because of deep ideological differences, the American civil liberties lobby is much less sympathetic to Islamists than it was to oppressed 'progressive' groups during the Cold War. By contrast, huge Muslim minorities in Europe, as well as much stronger left-wing traditions and anti-Americanism, will make it much more difficult for west Europeans to ignore such developments.
As with the Holy Alliance, a central area of cooperation within the present 'coalition' lies in intelligence sharing and police collaboration. Its participants are ready to support, or acquiesce in, US military campaigns in those areas where states have failed and have either become havens for such groups, or-in the case of Afghanistan-have been taken over by forces with international revolutionary agendas. There is not likely, therefore, to be any serious inter-national reaction against US military action in Somalia, for example.
But then, Western-led intervention in manifestly failed states was never really a problem, except where the areas concerned were of vital interest to powerful non-Western neighbours. In the course of the 1990s, the 'international com-munity', via the UN and its Security Council, would undoubtedly have sanctioned interventions in a considerable number of collapsed African countries, if the world's rich nations had been prepared to lead and pay for them. The problem comes when the United States attacks a functioning state, even a rather disreputable one like Milosevic's Yugoslavia; unless-as with Iraq in 1990-that state has violated the international order by seeking to destroy another state.
This is why the question of US policy towards Iraq and Iran will have repercussions for international cooperation and the 'war against terrorism' which go beyond the reaction of the Muslim world, Iraq's debts to Russia and the success or failure of the operation itself (vitally important though these questions obviously are). A US war against Iraq, or some form of attack on Iran, would raise once again the fears of many countries about the threat of future US interventions on their own soil, and more generally about US respect for other states and for the international order. More immediately, most states would see such actions as extremely destabilizing for the Middle East as a whole, and as likely to cause not a reduction in terrorism, but a great surge in Muslim support for it.
US strategy towards Iraq and Iran is also linked to the extremely legally and diplomatically complex issue of the right of sovereign states to possess nuclear weapons, and how to limit or at least supervise the spread and the dangers of these. On the one hand, most states around the world fear nuclear proliferation, and with good reason. However, supporting US-ordered disarmament is another matter, especially when the United States itself allows Israel to develop its own deterrent, accepts fewer and fewer international constraints on its nuclear developments, and through missile defence seeks to reduce the effectiveness of the arsenals of other nuclear powers.
Finally, the development of US strategy towards Iraq and Iran will be a critical test case of whether even the closest US allies can exert any serious influence over US policy. This is an issue of deep concern to the West in general; but for the British government, which has nailed itself to US policy, partly at least in the hope of thereby influencing and restraining it, in certain extreme circumstances US actions in the Middle East could become a question of almost existential importance.
If the United States does move against Iraq and/or Iran, then Russia, via its seat on the UN Security Council, will be a decisive factor in determining whether it acts with the support or opposition of the 'international community'-for in this matter at least, where Russia leads, China is likely to follow. Russia is obviously central to the future of the 'coalition against terrorism' and the post-11 September international order. It plays a key role in the affairs of Central Asia and Afghanistan; its intelligence contribution has been of considerable help in the US campaign; it has a very large Muslim population of its own-indeed, between 1996 and 1999 the rebellious Russian republic of Chechnya became an important base for international Sunni Islamist radicals; and whether the United States seeks to establish detente with Iran or to exert further and harsher pressure, Russia's political and commercial links to that country will be central to US efforts.
Should the 'war against terrorism' lead the United States to withdraw its troops from the Balkans, then Russia (like Turkey), may play a key role in helping the EU to maintain peace-or the reverse. This and other factors make Russia of great importance to Europe, for another humiliating European failure in this region, like that of Bosnia in the early 1990s, could deal a crippling blow to the entire European project.
The aftermath of the 11 September attacks saw a tremendous surface warming in relations between the US and Russian administrations, which could with time become a kind of partnership. (8) As of early 2002, however, the only really serious concrete moves by both sides, consisted not so much of radically new departures as of the avoidance of lunacy. Despite the wishes of many members of the Russian security establishment, for Russia to have opposed or even distanced itself from the US campaign against Al-Qa'ida and the Taliban in Afghanistan would have been criminally insane, given Russia's own vital interests-something that Vladimir Putin clearly recognized and forcibly pointed out to his officials. The Taliban regime was the only 'state' to have recognized Chechen independence. International Sunni Islamist volunteers allied to Al-Qa'ida and backed by the Taliban play an important part in the Chechen resistance, and played a key part both in the invasion of Daghestan in 1999 and in attempts to spread anti-Russian jihad throughout the north Caucasus and other Muslim regions of Russia. They have been accused of massive terrorist attacks in Russia, as well as other atrocities against Russian soldiers and civilians. In Central Asia, Sunni Islamist forces previously based in Afghanistan and backed by the Taliban are a potentially mortal danger to regional stability, pro-Russian regimes, Russian influence and, ultimately, Russia's own borders.
Similarly, for the US administration to have continued with a position of basic sympathy for the Chechen resistance would have been utterly contrary to vital US interests. Well before 11 September, US intelligence was aware that the Al-Qa'ida organization was sending money and a limited number of volunteers to Chechnya, and that the international forces fighting there were part of a wider network of which Al-Qa'ida is part. In the other direction, a number of Chechens appear to have fought for Al-Qa'ida and the Taliban in Afghanistan.
US condemnations of Russian atrocities in Chechnya, though often justified, will inevitably be muted not only by these considerations but by the realities of American or American-backed military campaigns against terrorists or their backers. The US is relearning lessons about the difficulties of distinguishing between combatants and non-combatants in such wars; and, more importantly, US unwillingness to countenance serious casualties among US ground troops dictates reliance on often semi-savage local native auxiliaries, and indirectly at least implicates the United States in their atrocities. Furthermore, many of the right-wing US commentators who were loud in their denunciation of Russian tactics in Chechnya are now equally loud in their calls for the United States to pursue tactics of utter ruthlessness in Afghanistan and elsewhere.(9)
Most importantly of all, from 1996 to 1999 Chechnya was precisely the kind of anarchical failed state-like Somalia-which the United States now regards as the archetypal potential haven for international Islamist terrorism. In these circumstances, for the United States to have encouraged a process leading to Chechen independence-and perhaps the 'rolling back' of Russian rule from the north Caucasus as a whole-would have been insane.
But a mutual avoidance of lunacy is a good deal less than a true 'partnership'. Both the US and Russian security, political and media establishments still contain numerous and powerful Cold War elements who remain deeply hostile to each others' countries. On the US side, this anti-Russian tendency is strengthened by the influence of east European ethnic lobbies for whom anti-Russian positions have become part of their fundamental raison d'être. Equally importantly, Russia was or still is an obstacle to the US desire for a completely free hand in a number of important areas: in the first rank, the Iraq, Iran, missile defence, and the development of US nuclear forces; in the second, NATO expansion and the spread of US influence in the former Soviet Union.
In the months after 11 September, these factors led to a series of rather brutal US blows to Russian sentiments and interests. On 13 December 2001, the US notified Russia of its decision unilaterally to abrogate the ABM Treaty. In early January 2002, the Bush administration announced that in the process of reducing nuclear forces, the US would only store, and not dismantle, its own warheads. At this time, the administration also announced that it was not seeking a new treaty or agreement on nuclear reduction with Russia, because 'friends don't need treaties'. Instead, the United States would simply proceed unilaterally, while retaining a free hand radically to increase its forces whenever it chose.
In a typical Russian view, 'By launching a policy of attaining absolute military superiority, Washington showed that it would not recognise Moscow, Beijing or anyone else as an equal in terms of strategic status.' (10) In early December 2001, the Bush administration, under pressure from hard-line US commentators, from Rumsfeld's Pentagon, and from east European and Baltic states and their lobbies in the United States, rowed sharply back on proposals by Tony Blair greatly to strengthen Russia's institutional ties to NATO, which were supposed to be canvassed at the NATO ministerial meeting in Brussels on 6 December. (11) This was combined with a continuing and apparently successful US push, in the face of considerable European reluctance, for a declaration of NATO expansion to include the Baltic states at the alliance's summit in Prague scheduled for October 2002.
Taken together, these setbacks have left Putin and his strongly pro-Western rhetoric highly exposed in the face of criticism from anti-American hard-liners. The risk is that not just the elites, but ordinary Russians may come to see him as repeating the experience of Gorbachev and Yeltsin, who made concession after concession to the West and in the end received very little in return. If US policy towards Iraq or Iran led to a really serious clash with Russian interests on top of the cumulative effect of these blows, then the Russian government might have no domestic choice but to move back to a strongly anti-American position.
Failing this, however, the Putin administration's basically pro-Western line is likely to continue, for it is founded on five extremely strong pillars. The first, already mentioned, is the shared vulnerability to Sunni Islamist extremism and terrorism; the second is Russian weakness and US strength; the third is the Russian economy's desperate need for Western investment; the fourth is the class interests of Russia's economic elites; and the last, and perhaps most important, is the 300-year-old and very powerful strand in Russian thinking and culture which desires that Russia be accepted as a fully 'European' country.
Russian weakness is most striking in the military field. After all, Russia was always more or less far behind the Western states economically; but at certain key moments in the eighteenth and twentieth centuries, its armies were among the very finest in the world. Today, Russia is hopelessly outspent, and technologically outmatched, by the United States. If present trends continue, by 2003 the annual US military budget will exceed Russia's annual GDP, and probably all the other military budgets of the world put together. Equally importantly, armies which cannot afford the latest technology, like Turkey's, Pakistan's, India's or China's, need the next best thing: brave, stoical and disciplined soldiers. These Russia and the Soviet Union once had in abundance, but the fighting forces have been wrecked by the cumulative effects of social and cultural modernization, Soviet demoralization and, most of all, Soviet and post-Soviet collapse. The truly lamentable state of the Russian army has been amply demonstrated in two Chechen wars.
Putin's external policies are founded on a frank recognition of Russia's weakness. Unlike Yeltsin, he does seem to have freed himself from the lingering influence of Russia's past superpower status. His abandonment of Russia's radar and electronic intelligence-gathering station in Cuba, and its naval base at Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam, were part of his attempt at a new partnership with the United States, but were also a recognition of the irrelevance of these relics of global power to Russia's new status and needs. (12)
However, naturally enough Putin and the Russian elites in general are determined to maintain Russia's role as a great power on the territory of the former Soviet Union. There are a number of such regional great powers in the world: China, India, South Africa, Nigeria, and France in francophone Africa. Generally their regional power owes less to their own strength than to the extreme weakness of the other states in the region. Long before it became a superpower, the United States played such a role in Central America; and should its role as a global superpower ever fade, it will doubtless never abandon its determination to play the predominant role in this region.
Russians are understandably nervous about the prospect of a long-term US military presence in Central Asia. In the immediate aftermath of 11 September, senior Russian officials declared any bases at all out of the question, and were publicly overruled by Putin. If the United States and Russia can abandon their perennial tendency to play zero-sum games against each other in this region, then this acceptance by Putin could form the basis for long-term cooperation in the region based on