In the words of Henry Kissinger, the Nobel Prize laureate: “America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests”.
The world suddenly came to a standstill in the early hours of September 9, 2001 after 19 militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al Qaeda hijacked four airplanes and carried out suicide attacks against the United States.
The worst of it all was when an American Airline Boeing 767 loaded with 20,000 gallons of jet fuel crashed into the north tower of the famous World Trade Centre in New York City.
The act led to the death of 2,977 people and more than 25,000 injures – not to mention the destruction of properties and deformation of lives. To most scholars, this was the single deadliest incident to be faced by security enforcement agencies in the history of the United States of America.
Millions of people watched the event unfold in New York on live television, and thought perhaps the rapture had taken place and it was time for destruction of the universe; or perhaps it was one of the deadliest American adventure movies.
Unfortunately, those hijackers were Islamic terrorists reportedly financed by the al Qaeda terrorist organisation of Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden, and were allegedly acting in retaliation for America’s support of Israel and its involvement in the Persian Gulf War and its continued military presence in the Middle East.
It was alarming and surprising that those terrorists could penetrate to cause this havoc after the US’s security systems and hegemony over the world.
The September 11 attack created enormous economic, health and security issues particularly for the United States. In terms of its economic impacts, the entire business community fell; stock markets immediately closed until 17th September and lost US$1.4trillion in valuation for the week.
At one time the epicentre thus New York City lost 430,000 jobs and US$2.8billion in wages over the first three months; the GDP of New York was estimated to have declined by US$27.3billion for the last three months of 2001 and all of 2002; and to a larger extent, the attack dwindled the world economy.
The attack as well had great impact on health, as it was recorded that several hundred thousand tonnes of toxic debris and chemicals were spread in the air due to collapse of the Twin Towers.
Several deaths and injuries were linked to spread of toxic dust in the atmosphere. Till today, people are still suffering from long-term health problems related to the 9/11 attack.
The following paragraphs will explain the impacts of the infamous 9/11 and how they have led to a paradigm shift in US relations with the rest of the world, and thus subsequently changed the international system to what it is today – taking into consideration the whole concept of liberalism versus realism under Presidents Bush, Obama and Donald Trump to justify the quote earlier made that America has no permanent friends or enemies but only its own interests.
As a result of the 9/11 attacks, many governments across the globe including the United States enacted legislation to combat terrorism. Countries like Germany, Canada, the United Kingdom and New Zealand have passed anti-terrorism Crime and Security Acts to protect their territory.
Indeed, the 9/11 attack and measures adopted by countries across the globe confirm the realist school of thought that the international system is brutish and anarchic – meaning that the international system has no power or central authority to regulate it, even though the world thought the system was a unipolar one controlled by the US.
Today, many world leaders are guided by the fact that the international system is a self-help system, and hence the need for countries to maximise security for the protection of their citizens. For example, the Bush administration following 9/11 saw the terrorist threat as coming from abroad, and thus sought to destroy the ability of foreign-based terrorists to attack the United States.
Hence, the US quickly responded after 9/11 by launching the War on Terror and invading Afghanistan on October 7th 2001 to depose the Taliban – which had failed to comply with U.S. demands to expel al-Qaeda from Afghanistan and extradite their leader Osama bin Laden. Further examples can be seen when, after a decade, the US government under Barack Obama assasinated bin Laden who was located and killed in Pakistan during a US military raid. Perceiving the actions of Muammar Gaddafi of Libya to be perpetuating terrorism hence led to him being tracked down by the Obama administration, and was a demonstration of offensive realism.
Today, 19 years after destruction of the World Trade Centre, most world leaders who believe in realism are of the belief that the international system induces competition and conflict among states, and inhibits the willingness of states to cooperate even in the face of common interests.
It also contends, if not dismisses, the capacity of international institutions to promote cooperation or to mitigate anarchy’s constraining effects on cooperation among states. This explains why despite the Non-Proliferation Treaty although accepted by member-state countries like North Korea, Brazil, Israel and India, they still go ahead with the production of nuclear weapons to maximise security. Nonetheless, the actions of President Trump in the international system is one clear example of a realist leader who thinks of his national interest first before cooperating with his allies.
On the other hand, critics of realism (liberals) are of the view that the aftermath of the 9/11 disaster re-echoes the need for the international system to enter into cooperation and foster integration, and rather reject realism’s propositions on anarchy.
According to the proponents of liberalism, the attack on the US on September 11 should place premium on the need for countries to enter into international institutions – like the United Nations and other regional blocs like the EU and the AU – for mutual benefits. For example, the United Nations since September 2001 has always been at the forefront of the global campaign against terrorism.
The Security Council acted with remarkable speed with its Resolution 1373 and set up the Counter Terrorism Committee with extensive powers. The liberalists believe in interdependence through economic and cultural exchanges. Today, international institutions like the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Health Organisation among others are playing pivotal roles in poverty alleviation, financial and technical support to countries particularly in Africa, South-East Asia and the Caribbean – especially in this era of COVID-19. In short, with proper institutions and the right leaders, liberals believe that states can work together to maximise prosperity and minimise conflicts.
In conclusion, the world has changed since 2001. Most countries today are guided by the realist school of thought, whereby they place maximum premium on their national interest at the expense of others even if they enter into the international system for engagements.
Current happenings across the globe, with states maximising security to protect their citizens and sometimes offending other states, are demonstrations that the attack on the US has called for leaders of the world to be on the alert; hence, it has caused a paradigm shift in the international system.
On the regional level, Nigeria’s attempt to close its borders to trade for the benefits of its citizens – although against the ECOWAS protocol – was an indication that the international system has entered a new paradigm.
However, we must acknowledge that liberal institutions like the UN, AU, ECOWAS, EU among others have also demonstrated that cooperation is the only key to enhance a country’s national interests. If not for anything else, the COVID-19 pandemic has really demonstrated the need for cooperation as the only means to protect our world and make it a safe place for us all.
Lastly, the African Continental Free Trade is another promising area for poverty alleviation from the continent, whereby the continent is expected to create a US$3.4trillion economic bloc. However, with the ruins of September 11, there may not be permanent friends or enemies but only interest.
>>>The writer is the Executive Director, Kandifo Institute. He can be reached on [email protected]