This series of essays seeks to interpret the immediate consequences of 11 September in terms of longer-range developments in the world system. Three such developments may be identified without much difficulty or controversy. First, it has been evident for some time that serious questions have to be asked about the continuing capacity of sovereign states, not only to provide order and security for their inhabitants, but also to manage an increasingly interconnected global economic system. Much attention has focused on the growth and role of NGOs and what some have chosen to call 'global civil society'. At the other end of the scale the inadequacy of individual national markets has been reflected in the creation of large scale trading blocs, notably the EU and NAFTA but also Mercosur and ASEAN. To declare the demise of the nation state as the pre-eminent form of political organization would be premature, but over the last 30 years there is clear evidence of an exponential increase in the number of non-state actors. They may not yet be alternatives to the state but they cannot be discounted in any serious study of contemporary world politics.
A second, and intimately related, trend since the middle of the twentieth century has been the resort to multilateral solutions to security, economic and environmental problems. At first this was very much a means of constructing a Western bulwark against the Soviet Union in the Cold War. The monuments to this effort are the IMF and the multilateral trading rules of the GATT/WTO system-the latter now extended to China. Yet in many other areas the multilateral effort also bore fruit: in arms control; in human rights; and, latterly, in the attempt to construct environmental regimes to combat stratospheric ozone loss, desertification and climate change. The extent and impact of multilateralism can best be ascertained by making comparisons with the world of the 1930s where avowedly unilateralist and autarchic approaches held sway.
Multilateralism cannot be divorced from the third development, which is structural. The structure of the inter-state system has since 1945 been clearly characterised by the hegemonic position of the United States.