Small World

Jewish World Review Nov. 7, 2001 / 21 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762

The Real New World Order

The American and the Islamic challenge

By Charles Krauthammer --


On September 11, our holiday from history came to an abrupt end. Not just in the trivial sense that the United States finally learned the meaning of physical vulnerability. And not just in the sense that our illusions about the permanence of the post-Cold War peace were shattered.

We were living an even greater anomaly. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, and the emergence of the United States as the undisputed world hegemon, the inevitable did not happen. Throughout the three and a half centuries of the modern state system, whenever a hegemonic power has emerged, a coalition of weaker powers has inevitably arisen to counter it. When Napoleonic France reached for European hegemony, an opposing coalition of Britain, Prussia, Russia, and Austria emerged to stop it. Similarly during Germany's two great reaches for empire in the 20th century. It is an iron law: History abhors hegemony. Yet for a decade, the decade of the unipolar moment, there was no challenge to the United States anywhere.

The expected anti-American Great Power coalition never materialized. Russia and China flirted with the idea repeatedly, but never consummated the deal. Their summits would issue communiqu s denouncing hegemony, unipolarity, and other euphemisms for American dominance. But they were unlikely allies from the start. Each had more to gain from its relations with America than from the other. It was particularly hard to see why Russia would risk building up a more populous and prosperous next-door neighbor with regional ambitions that would ultimately threaten Russia itself.

The other candidate for anti-hegemonic opposition was a truncated Russia picking up pieces of the far-flung former Soviet empire. There were occasional feints in that direction, with trips by Russian leaders to former allies like Cuba, Iraq, even North Korea. But for the Russians this was even more a losing proposition than during their first go-round in the Cold War when both the Soviet Union and the satellites had more to offer each other than they do today.

With no countervailing coalition emerging, American hegemony had no serious challenge. That moment lasted precisely ten years, beginning with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991. It is now over. The challenge, long-awaited,  finally declared itself on September 11 when the radical Islamic movement opened its worldwide war with a, literally, spectacular attack on the American homeland. Amazingly, however, this anti-hegemonic alliance includes not a single Great Power. It includes hardly any states at all, other than hostage-accomplice Afghanistan.

That is the good news. The bad news is that because it is a sub-state infiltrative entity, the al Qaeda network and its related terrorists around the world lack an address. And a fixed address -- the locus of any retaliation -- is necessary for effective deterrence. Moreover, with the covert support of some rogue regimes, this terrorist network commands unconventional weapons and unconventional tactics, and is fueled by a radicalism and a suicidal fanaticism that one does not normally associate with adversary states.

This radicalism and fanaticism anchored in religious ideology only increased our shocked surprise. We had given ourselves to believe that after the success of our classic encounters with fascism and Nazism, then communism, the great ideological struggles were finished. This was the meaning of Francis Fukuyama's End of History. There would, of course, be the usual depredations, invasions, aggressions,  and simple land grabs of time immemorial. But the truly world-historical struggles were over. The West had won. Modernization was the way. No great idea would arise to challenge it.

Radical Islam is not yet a great idea, but it is a dangerous one. And on September 11, it arose.


It took only a few hours for elite thinking about U.S. foreign policy to totally reorient itself, waking with a jolt from a decade-long slumber. During the 1990s, American foreign policy became more utopian and divorced from reality than at any time since our last postwar holiday from history in the 1920s. The liberal internationalists of the Clinton era could not quite match the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact abolishing war forever for sheer cosmic stupidity. But they tried hard. And they came close.

Guided by the vision of an autonomous, active, and norm-driven "international community" that would relieve a unilateralist America from keeping order in the world, the Clinton administration spent eight years signing one treaty, convention, and international protocol after another. From this web of mutual obligations, a new and vital "international community" would ultimately regulate international relations and keep the peace. This would, of course, come at the expense of American power. But for those brought up to distrust, and at times detest, American power, this diminution of dominance was a bonus.

To understand the utter bankruptcy of this approach, one needs but a single word: anthrax. The 1972 Biological Weapons Convention sits, with the ABM treaty and the Chemical Weapons Convention, in the pantheon of arms control. We now know that its signing marks the acceleration of the Soviet bioweapons program, of which the 1979 anthrax accident at a secret laboratory at Sverdlovsk was massive evidence, largely ignored. It was not until the fall of the Soviet Union that the vast extent of that bioweapons program was acknowledged. But that -- and the post-Gulf War evidence that Iraq, another treaty signatory in good standing, had been building huge stores of bioweapons -- made little impression on the liberal-internationalist faithful. Just before September 11, a serious debate was actually about to break out in Congress about the Bush administration's decision to reject the biological weapons treaty's new, and particularly useless, "enforcement" protocol that the Clinton administration had embraced.

After the apocalypse, there are no believers. The Democrats who yesterday were touting international law as the tool to fight bioterrorism are today dodging anthrax spores in their own offices. The very idea of safety-in-parchment is risible. When war breaks out, even treaty advocates take to the foxholes. (The Bush administration is trying to get like-minded countries to sign onto an agreement to prevent individuals from getting easy access to the substrates of bioweapons. That is perfectly reasonable. And it is totally different from having some kind of universal enforcement bureaucracy going around the world checking biolabs, which would have zero effect on the bad guys. They hide everything.)

This decade-long folly -- a foreign policy of norms rather than of national interest -- is over. The exclamation mark came with our urgent post-September 11 scurrying to Pakistan and India to shore up relations for the fight with Afghanistan. Those relations needed shoring up because of U.S. treatment of India and Pakistan after their 1998 nuclear tests. Because they had violated the universal nonproliferation "norm," the United States automatically imposed sanctions, blocking international lending and aid, and banning military sales. The potential warming of relations with India after the death of its Cold War Soviet alliance was put on hold. And traditionally strong U.S.-Pakistani relations were cooled as a show of displeasure. After September 11, reality once again set in, and such refined nonsense was instantly put aside.

This foreign policy of norms turned out to be not just useless but profoundly damaging. During those eight Clinton years, while the United States was engaged in (literally) paperwork, the enemy was planning and arming, burrowing deep into America, preparing for war.

When war broke out, eyes opened. You no longer hear that the real issue for American foreign policy is global warming, the internal combustion engine, drug traffic, AIDS, or any of the other transnational trendies of the '90s. On September 11, American foreign policy acquired seriousness. It also acquired a new organizing principle: We have an enemy, radical Islam; it is a global opponent of worldwide reach, armed with an idea, and with the tactics, weapons, and ruthlessness necessary to take on the world's hegemon; and its defeat is our supreme national objective, as overriding a necessity as were the defeats of fascism and Soviet communism.

That organizing principle was enunciated by President Bush in his historic address to Congress. From that day forth, American foreign policy would define itself -- and define friend and foe -- according to who was with us or against us in the war on terrorism. This is the self-proclaimed Bush doctrine -- the Truman doctrine with radical Islam replacing Soviet communism. The Bush doctrine marks the restoration of the intellectual and conceptual simplicity that many, including our last president, wistfully (and hypocritically) said they missed about the Cold War. Henry Kissinger's latest book, brilliant though it is, published shortly before September 11, is unfortunately titled Does America Need a Foreign Policy? Not only do we know that it does. We know what it is.


The post-September 11 realignments in the international system have been swift and tectonic. Within days, two Great Powers that had confusedly fumbled their way through the period of unchallenged American hegemony in the 1990s began to move dramatically. A third, while not altering its commitments, mollified its militancy. The movement was all in one direction: toward alignment with the United States. The three powers in question -- India, Russia, and China -- have one thing in common: They all border Islam, and all face their own radical Islamic challenges.

First to embrace the United States was India, a rising superpower, nuclear-armed, economically vibrant, democratic, and soon to be the world's most populous state. For half a century since Nehru's declaration of nonalignment, India had defined itself internationally in opposition to the United States. As one of the founders in 1955 of the nonaligned movement at Bandung, India helped define nonalignment as anti-American. Indeed, for reasons of regional politics (Pakistan's relations with China and with the United States) as well as ideology, India aligned itself firmly with the Soviet Union.

That began to fade with the end of the Cold War, and over time relations with the United States might have come to full flower. Nonetheless, September 11 made the transition instantaneous. India, facing its own Taliban-related terrorism in Kashmir, immediately invited the United States to use not just its airspace but its military bases for the campaign in Afghanistan. The Nehru era had ended in a flash. Nonalignment was dead. India had openly declared itself ready to join Pax Americana.

The transformation of Russian foreign policy has been more subtle but, in the long run, perhaps even more far-reaching. It was symbolized by the announcement on October 17 that after 37 years Russia was closing its massive listening post at Lourdes, Cuba. Lourdes was one of the last remaining symbols both of Soviet global ambitions and of reflexive anti-Americanism.

Now, leaving Lourdes is no miracle. It would likely have happened anyway. It is a $200 million a year luxury at a time when the Russian military is starving. But taken together with the simultaneously reported Russian decision to leave Cam Ranh Bay (the former U.S. Naval base in South Vietnam, leased rent-free in 1979 for 25 years), it signaled a new orientation of Russian policy. On his trip to European Union headquarters in early October, President Vladimir Putin made clear that he sees Russia's future with the West -- and that he wants the West to see its future including Russia.

This shift is tactical for now. America needs help in the Afghan war. Russia can provide it. It retains great influence over the "-stans," the former Soviet Central Asian republics. From their side, the Russians need hands off their own Islamic problem in Chechnya. Putin came to deal. In Brussels, he not only relaxed his opposition to NATO's expansion to the borders of Russia, not only signaled his willingness to compromise with the United States on missile defense, but broadly hinted that Russia should in essence become part of NATO.

Were this movement to develop and deepen, to become strategic and permanent, it could become one of the great revolutions in world affairs. For 300 years since Peter the Great, Russia has been unable to decide whether it belongs east or west. But in a world realigned to face the challenge of radical Islam, it is hard to see why Russia could not, in principle, be part of the West. With the Soviet ideology abandoned, Russia's grievances against the West are reduced to the standard clash of geopolitical ambitions. But just as France and Germany and Britain have learned to harmonize their old geopolitical rivalries within a Western structure, there is no reason Russia could not.

Cam Ranh Bay and Lourdes signal Russia's renunciation of global ambitions. What remain are Russia's regional ambitions -- to protect the integrity of the Russian state itself, and to command a sphere of influence including its heavily Islamic "near abroad." For the first decade of the post-Cold War era, we showed little sympathy for the first of these goals and none for the second. We looked with suspicion on Russia's reassertion of hegemony over once-Soviet space. The great fight over Caspian oil, for example, was intended to ensure that no pipeline went through Russia (or Iran), lest Russia end up wielding too much regional power.

That day may be over. Today we welcome Russia as a regional power, particularly in Islamic Central Asia. With the United States and Russia facing a similar enemy -- the radical Islamic threat is more virulent towards America but more proximate to Russia -- Russia finds us far more accommodating to its aspirations in the region. The United States would not mind if Moscow once again gained hegemony in Central Asia. Indeed, we would be delighted to give it back Afghanistan -- except that Russia (and Afghanistan) would decline the honor. But American recognition of the legitimacy of Russian Great Power status in Central Asia is clearly part of the tacit bargain in the U.S.-Russian realignment. Russian accommodation to  NATO expansion is the other part. The Afghan campaign marks the first stage of a new, and quite possibly historic, rapprochement between Russia and the West.

The third and most reluctant player in the realignment game is China. China is the least directly threatened by radical Islam. It has no Chechnya or Kashmir. But it does have simmering Islamic discontent in its western provinces. It is sympathetic to any attempt to tame radical Islam because of the long-term threat it poses to Chinese unity. At the just completed Shanghai Summit, China was noticeably more accommodating than usual to the United States. It is still no ally, and still sees us, correctly, as standing in the way of its aspirations to hegemony in the western Pacific. Nonetheless, the notion of China's becoming the nidus for a new anti-American coalition is dead. At least for now. There is no Russian junior partner to play.  Pakistan, which has thrown in with the United States, will not play either. And there is no real point. For the foreseeable future, the energies of the West will be directed against a common enemy. China's posture of sympathetic neutrality is thus a passive plus: It means that not a single Great Power on the planet lies on the wrong side of the new divide. This is historically unprecedented. Call it hyper-unipolarity. And for the United States, it is potentially a great gain.

With Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa on the sidelines, the one region still in play -- indeed the prize in the new Great Game -- is the Islamic world. It is obviously divided on the question of jihad against the infidel. Bin Laden still speaks for a minority. The religious parties in Pakistan, for example, in the past decade never got more than 5 percent of the vote combined. But bin Ladenism clearly has support in the Islamic "street." True, the street has long been overrated. During the Gulf War, it was utterly silent and utterly passive. Nonetheless, after five years of ceaseless agitation through Al Jazeera, and after yet another decade of failed repressive governance, the street is more radicalized and more potentially mobilizable. For now, the corrupt ruling Arab elites have largely lined up with the United States, at least on paper. But their holding power against the radical Islamic challenge is not absolute. The war on terrorism, and in particular the Afghan war, will be decisive in determining in whose camp the Islamic world will end up: ours -- that of the United States, the West, Russia, India -- or Osama bin Laden's.


The asymmetry is almost comical. The whole world against one man. If in the end the United States, backed by every Great Power, cannot succeed in defeating some cave dwellers in the most backward country on earth, then the entire structure of world stability, which rests ultimately on the pacifying deterrent effect of American power, will be fatally threatened.

Which is why so much hinges on the success of the war on terrorism. Initially, success need not be defined globally. No one expects a quick victory over an entrenched and shadowy worldwide network. Success does, however, mean demonstrating that the United States has the will and power to enforce the Bush doctrine that governments will be held accountable for the terrorists they harbor. Success therefore requires making an example of the Taliban. Getting Osama is not the immediate goal. Everyone understands that it is hard, even for a superpower, to go on a cave-to-cave manhunt. Toppling regimes is another matter. For the Taliban to hold off the United States is an astounding triumph. Every day that they remain in place is a rebuke to American power. Indeed, as the war drags on, their renown, particularly in the Islamic world, will only grow.

After September 11, the world awaited the show of American might. If that show fails, then the list of countries lining up on the other side of the new divide will grow. This is particularly true of the Arab world with its small, fragile states. Weaker states invariably seek to join coalitions of the strong. For obvious reasons of safety, they go with those who appear to be the winners. (Great Powers, on the other hand, tend to support coalitions of the weak as a way to create equilibrium. Thus Britain was forever balancing power on the Continent by supporting coalitions of the weak against a succession of would-be hegemons.) Jordan is the classic example. Whenever there is a conflict, it tries to decide who is going to win, and joins that side. In the Gulf War, it first decided wrong, then switched to rejoin the American side. That was not out of affection for Washington. It was cold realpolitik. The improbable pro-American Gulf War coalition managed to include such traditional American adversaries as Syria because of an accurate Syrian calculation of who could overawe the region.

The Arab states played both sides against the middle during the Cold War, often abruptly changing sides (e.g., Egypt during the '60s and '70s). They lined up with the United States against Iraq at the peak of American unipolarity at the beginning of the 1990s. But with subsequent American weakness and irresolution, in the face both of post-Gulf War Iraqi defiance and of repeated terrorist attacks that garnered the most feckless American military responses, respect for American power declined. Inevitably, the pro-American coalition fell apart.

The current pro-American coalition will fall apart even more quickly if the Taliban prove a match for the United States. Contrary to the current delusion that the Islamic states will respond to American demonstrations of solicitousness and sensitivity (such as a halt in the fighting during Ramadan), they are waiting to see the success of American power before irrevocably committing themselves. The future of Islamic and Arab allegiance will depend on whether the Taliban are brought to grief.

The assumption after September 11 was that an aroused America will win. If we demonstrate that we cannot win, no coalition with moderate Arabs will long survive. But much more depends on our success than just the allegiance of that last piece of the geopolitical puzzle, the Islamic world. The entire new world alignment is at stake.

States line up with more powerful states not out of love but out of fear. And respect. The fear of radical Islam has created a new, almost unprecedented coalition of interests among the Great Powers. But that coalition of fear is held together also by respect for American power and its ability to provide safety under the American umbrella. Should we succeed in the war on terrorism, first in Afghanistan, we will be cementing the New World Order -- the expansion of the American sphere of peace to include Russia and India (with a more neutral China) -- just now beginning to take shape. Should we fail, it will be sauve qui peut. Other countries -- and not just our new allies but even our old allies in Europe -- will seek their separate peace. If the guarantor of world peace for the last half century cannot succeed in a war of self-defense against Afghanistan(!), then the whole post-World War II structure -- open borders, open trade, open seas, open societies -- will begin to unravel.

The first President Bush sought to establish a New World Order. He failed, in part because he allowed himself to lose a war he had just won. The second President Bush never sought a New World Order. It was handed to him on Sept. 11. To maintain it, however, he has a war to win.

JWR contributor Charles Krauthammer wrote this piece for the Weekly Standard. Comment by clicking here.


© 2001, The Weekly Standard