A New Order, New Powers

By Weidenfeld, Warner | Naval War College Review, Autumn 2003 | Go to article overview

A New Order, New Powers


Weidenfeld, Warner, Naval War College Review


The war with Iraq has been a turning point in history that will bring massive changes to America's relations with the rest of the world and relations within Europe. Future historians will characterize the time period between the attack on the World Trade Center and the Iraqi war as the beginning of a new era in the history of the world. They will see the end of the East-West conflict as the incubation period for the full consequences that were not reducible to one concept by its contemporaries. Unsurprisingly, the political response worldwide has been erratic and confused, reflected in the intellectual commentary. The war exposed a lack of orientation. Where it was once fashionable to speak of a paradigm change, one now soberly acknowledges paradigm atrophy.

The demands of our era are too high; too much must be resolved in too many places, and too many previously legitimate assumptions appear to have become irrelevant. Almost everything that seemed to lend world politics the image of a reasonably reliable order is no longer valid. The Iraqi war presents seven consequences for the future of international politics.

In the beginning there was terror. This is not to say that everything is a consequence of terrorism, but the attacks of 11 September released forces, triggered traumas, and made us all look into the abyss of serious dangers previously off in the distance where they were more or less ignored.

The end of the Cold War and the dissipation of communist ideology and its goal of world domination left smoldering conflicts in the background. Phenomena such as religious fundamentalism, the explosion of ethnic tensions, and heated nationalism, which has been contained for so long within the grip of bipolarity, were then suddenly set free, surprising the world community with this new aggressiveness, from the Balkans to the Caucasus, Afghanistan to Pakistan, Iraq to Indonesia and Malaysia.

The second consequence is that terrorism has undermined the premise of our security. The basic principle against terrorism has always been deterrence. An enemy state was to be deterred from attacking with the threat of a counterattack resulting in destruction or at least defeat. Every actor's move was based on the rationally calculated risk of a counterattack. This ensured peace in the Cold War world for decades. However, the global professional network of terrorism does not act according to this principle. Its calculations are not based upon this traditional sense of risk, as divine promises are made.

Terrorism is no longer the classic foreign enemy. It lies both within and beyond the borders of the country under attack. Terrorist networks boast a high level of professional training and are well equipped with high-tech capabilities, which are often linked to a transcendence-oriented conviction to bring a new cultural horizon to designated nations. Terrorism has nested itself in many countries, effectively rescinding the traditional distinction between domestic and foreign security. Western societies, particularly the United States, have therefore replaced deterrence with the active search for protection.

In recent years alone, some ninety thousand terrorists worldwide have been trained. The nightmare of 11 September was, against the backdrop of this information, just the beginning of the beginning. Western civilization is facing threats to its very existence.

America's ability to survive terrorism is the third consequence. Rendered vulnerable for the first time on its own territory, on 11 September the United States was struck at the very heart of its existence. Practically defenseless against attack, the American self-conception made war against terrorism necessary to protect the survival of the nation. That is why the war with Iraq should not be seen as a singular event. It is only one stone, with many more needed to complete the large mosaic of security and stability. First, there was Afghanistan, then Iraq, and others will follow-Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Korea; wherever the roots of threats are found, America will seek to protect its national existence.

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