The September 11 attacks have had a significant impact on both US domestic and foreign policy, especially with regards to issues affecting security. Serious consideration of the evolution of US foreign policy, since September 11, will therefore be necessary in understanding future trends on the international political stage.
The September 11 attacks killed nearly 3, 000 people and caused over US$100 billion worth of economic damage in what is regarded as the most serious attack on US territory since the US-Britain war in 1812.
The reaction of the Bush government to the September 11 attacks was swift and decisive helping to raise the profile of the President and his administration. First, Bush was quick to define the war on terrorism and unify the political will of the people. Second, Bush took immediate action at home arranging rescue operations and detailing a list of the 19-hijackers. Security measures in airports and other public places were strengthened with the aid of increased budgets. Financial assistance was also extended to those organizations most effected by the tragedy. Abroad, Bush was quick to target al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden, and extend blame to the Afghanistan Taliban government for harboring terrorists in spite of credible legal evidence at the time. This redirection of responsibility helped Bush divert political pressure away from his administration.
Taking advantage of the international sympathies, a Global Anti-terrorism coalition was established reinforcing the US doctrine “either you’re with us or against us.” Bush then set-up a homeland security office, now called the Department of Homeland Security, and founded a US Military Northern Command to direct country’s offensive and launch the war against al-Qaida and the Taliban government.
As far as foreign relations are concerned, the US has gained more than they have lost since the attacks on the WTC, especially during the initial phase in which US-led troops were able to successfully overthrow the Taliban regime in what amounted to a convincing military victory.
So far, US diplomacy has reaped the following rewards: the US has been able to assume the political leadership of the Global Anti-terrorism alliance by successfully gaining the unparalleled moral support of the international community; enhance ties with allies and stronger relations with major powers, especially in US-Russian affairs; gain the entry of troops into Central Asia, South Asia and South East Asia thereby further improving its overall global strategic advantage; gain the chance to put into practice anti-terrorism military theory and demonstrate its superior military capabilities. On the whole, the status of the US as super-power has been significantly enhanced since the events of September 11.
However, many see the US supremacy as a double-edged sword. The US victory in the war against terror, though far from over, has led to a rise in US unilateralism and the subsequent veiling of many complex problems. For instance, the US has tended to use its superior military power to adopt simplified measures in dealing with terrorist activities. Other examples of US unilateralism include the US’s hegemonic denunciation of the 1972 ABM treaty, the forceful push for the US NMD program, withdrawal from the Kyoto protocol, withdrawal from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the rejection of ICC, partiality in favor of Israel during the Middle-East conflict, and the continued threat of war against Iraq despite international concerns. In addition, the US has launched a steel tariffs war motivated by domestic electoral desires and the wish to support the interests of some powerful domestic groups. In another example of double standards, the US has required other countries to cut back on agricultural product subsidies, while deciding to approve US$13 billion to its own farmers.
It is the Bush government’s new concept of security that requires the most attention and that will have the longest-lasting influence. Briefly, security will now focuses on the following concerns: putting homeland security above and beyond all else, expanding its definition of terrorism to include groups of individuals who possess the ability to launch an attack on the US, and greater number of other countries; including anti-terrorist concerns as a central part of long-term US strategy; a focus on anti-terrorism preventative measures including the “first-strike” policy primarily aimed at the “Axis of Evil” and, most notably, Iraq; the need to react to nuclear threats using any number of means at their disposal; shifting the attention of regional military strategy to the Asia Pacific; a focus on non-traditional security while maintaining traditional security concerns such as preventing the emergence of major super powers in both Europe and Asia. Some US scholars have taken to using the term “aggressive realism” to describe the US’s new concept of security.
The security concept has formed gradually over the past year. During the development phase, attention has been paid to the following: Firstly, US scholars, as well as policy makers, have issued a series of new terms such as “new imperialism” to account for these new circumstances. According to these people, the US has already become an empire akin to that of a modern Roman Empire. As such, and in contrast to other empires of the past, the US should shoulder the added responsibilities by taking a more benevolent role in international affairs. This new imperialism, to some extent, re-confirms the US’s position within the world. In the past, the common wisdom of the major power brokers in both of the major US parties has been to guarantee the US’s leading role within global affair, while now it appears the US is seeking absolute domination within the international arena. In this respect, the emergence of the “new imperialism” has provided strong psychological and political leverage for the US. Secondly, the military and associated right wing sentiments have taken center stage in recent US politics limiting the voice of more moderate concerns. As a result, the new security concept has becoming increasingly militant and aggressive.
In light of this backdrop, it appears US foreign policy is determined to institute a unilateral military approach and, as a result, potentially undermine international support for the US campaign on anti-terrorism. Already this year, the US and EU have encountered serious disputes with regard to trade and other issues. Major EU countries continue to oppose the US stance of waging war against Iraq. Even the improved US relations with Russia may be strained as Russia has developed significant relations with Iraq, Iran and North Korea, all of which have been identified as targets by the US. With cracks developing between the US and Saudi Arabia, the Islamic world is becoming increasingly impatient with the US. In the immediate future, US diplomatic relations face some serious challenges.
Yet the biggest stumbling block for US government policy may come from home. With mid-term elections just around the corner, questions regarding the Bush administration’s policies are sure to be raised. Support for Bush has fallen to a 65 percent approval rating, the lowest since September 11, 2001. The world must wait until after the mid-term US congress elections on November 5 of this year to see just how domestic politics influence US international policy.
The author is vice director of the US Study Center in Renmin University of China.
(china.org.cn, translated by Zheng Guihong, September 12, 2002)