Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique, Paris

"What are the Strategic and Geopolitical Consequences
of the "War Against Terrorism"?"

Paris, 14 December 2001

Lecture in the International Seminar for Experts "Europe: Atlantic Partner or Regional Player - Europe's Security and Defence Policy After September 11", organised by the Cicero Foundation in the series Great Debates in Paris on 13 and 14 December 2001.


The easy answer to the question that I was asked to discuss would have been to tell you that "it is too early to say", and leave it at that. Another option was to tell you "buy the book, all the answers are there". But then of course I would not get my fee. So let me try to sketch a few ideas. (I will take a different angle than the one which is taken in the book, so after listening to me it is still worthwhile buying the book.)

Before I start, I would like to underline that I think we are in for the long haul. We may even be at the dawn of another "War of Thirty Years" as Lord Weidenfeld, a British writer, has suggested. In other words, "2001" may be akin to "1618". We may be at the beginning of a new era, Perhaps we should stop the so-called "quest for a new paradigm". Perhaps we have found it: perhaps it is the defense of civilization (not "Western" civilization, but civilization as such) and the eradication of the international terrorist threat.

However, one should not exaggerate the magnitude of the current events. In fact, I would like to suggest three caveats to the idea that "the world has changed completely on 9/11":

September 11 - A Qualitative and Quantitative Jump

First, there are so many things that have not changed. Forgive me for stating the obvious, but to say that "the world has changed" obscures the fact that the number of human beings living under poverty level, or affected by AIDS, has not changed a iota since 9/11. Our world may have changed. Their world has not.

Second, many changes that we are seeing today are not direct consequences of 9/11. What I mean by that is the fact that a number of key actors are "instrumentalizing" the crisis to advance their own agendas (i.e. China, Russia, Japan... ). I will come back to that.

Third and most importantly perhaps, many changes that we are witnessing are not fundamentally new. The most important consequence is the acceleration of existing trends. This is what I would like to explore with you now.

To begin with, it seems that a number of "long-term trends" (that is, trends that have developed in the past decade) have been accelerated.

Terrorism, first. Before 9/11, terrorism was already not what it used to be. We used to say that "terrorists don't want a lot of people dead, they just want a lot of people watching." Old-fashioned terrorism was part of a bargaining process. At the risk of sounding cynical, I would say that it was fundamentally a political process. This is not true anymore (although Al-Qaeda does have some sort of political agenda). But already before 9/11, there was an increase in the average number of casualties in terrorist attacks. The causes were found in the evolution of religious fundamentalist movements, in the increase in financial and technical means at the disposal of terrorist groups, and in the passage of the millennium which seems to have "inspired" many. However, 9/11 is a quantitative and qualitative jump in the history of terrorism, with the number of casualties (more than 3.000) growing by an order of magnitude as compared with the most deadly terrorist attacks in the contemporary era.

Likewise, NBC terrorism was already a major preoccupation of the international community. There had already been cases of bioterrorism. There had been a very important number of false anthrax letters (in fact, this was a very common tactic used by some groups or individuals, for instance anti-abortion activists). However, the October-November anthrax attack, because it was both well-targeted and widespread, represented an important step.

We have not seen, so far at least, the combination of the two. What used to be called "catastrophic terrorism". But it may be only a matter of time. Al-Qaeda has broken the taboo of "mass destruction". The cat is now out of the Pandora's box (sorry for the colliding metaphors).

Japan's and Germany's Defense Normalization

A second trend is the "normalization" of the defense policies of Japan and Germany. As we compare the 9/11 attacks with Pearl Harbour (a misplaced comparison, I think), Tokyo and Berlin have put the final nail in the coffin of the Second World War by firmly deciding that they would militarily participate in the operations. But in both countries this evolution had begun in the early 1990s, in a fairly linear way for Germany (by gradually enhancing its participation in the operations in the Balkans), in a more subtle way for Japan. The 9/11 attacks have accelerated that trend. Prime Minister Koizumi had a clear agenda for a more assertive defense policy, and 9/11 gave him an opportunity to advance this agenda. Chancellor Schröder, for his part, showed remarkable political courage by committing Germany even without being certain of the support of the Bundestag.

Other trends that are or will be accelerated by 9/11 and the "war on terrorism" include the reform of Western armed forces. That is certainly true for the United States. Before 9/11, the fate of Secretary Rumsfeld's ambitious transformation projects were uncertain. He now has a golden opportunity to advance his agenda. Likewise, the missile defense program benefits from 9/11. First, the political context in Washington is different: the Democrats have decided that it was not a good time to criticize the Bush missile defense plans. Second, missile defense benefits from the priority given to the overarching concept of "homeland security". In other words, even though some critics of missile defense were arguing before 9/11 that the "real" threat was that of terrorism, the idea according to which "We don't know where the next surprise will come from" has come to the support of missile defense. And third, the international ramifications of the issue have been "de-dramatized", due to the new atmosphere of cooperation between Washington, Moscow and Beijing. In a nutshell, the net effect of 9/11 is to bolster the missile defense project.

I am not sure that this trend will also be true for Europe. At least two countries, Germany and Britain, have decided increases in their defense budgets. But these remain modest. And others, such as France, have not even considered such an option (so far at least).

Towards an Enhanced Regional Integration

Another, perhaps less obvious trend is an enhancement of regional integration on both sides of the Atlantic. During the past decade, this trend existed in particular in Europe with the EU, and in North America with NAFTA. I would argue that for different reasons, these two trends are going to be reinforced. On the EU side, we have immediately seen a reinforcement of "third pillar" cooperation, and the questions that will be raised about the future of NATO (I will come to that in a moment) are also likely to accelerate the construction of the European Security and Defense Policy. On the North American side, the US emphasis on "homeland security" will lead to a greater security cooperation with Canada (including for missile defense), and with Mexico (including for border control).

Finally, I should add the acceleration of another long-term trend, which is the growing US penetration in Central Asia. Until now, this presence was mostly political and economic, with a military dimension, but without permanent military presence. I doubt very much that, having established bridgeheads in Uzbekistan and Afghanistan in particular, the US military will just pack and go home in a few weeks. There are many reasons for the US to stay. One is simply that it is just too good a geostrategic opportunity. Another is that Washington does not want to appear as leaving Afghanistan to its own fate for the second time in two decades. A third is that the US military presence will be justified by a "deterrence" role, to avoid that other countries in the region become sanctuaries for Al-Qaida-like organizations.

If we now look at the political and strategic context of the past two years, we can say that some other, more recent trends have also been accelerated.

An End to Happy Globalization?

The first is what I would call the end of "happy globalization". Remember the time when economic issues were supposedly "taking over military issues"? Remember the return of the "democratic peace" concept? Remember the time when "global interdependence" was making State power "increasingly irrelevant"? That was not so long ago. But already before 9/11 the idea of a "happy globalization" was on a downward slope. Serious challenges were already made to the primacy of liberalism in the economic area. The fear of a recession was already present. And the Bush administration's conception of the world was more traditional, with more emphasis on hard security issues, than the Clinton era. So, here again, we have the acceleration of an existing trend. It may have some positive side effects. Washington's U-turn on tax havens, for instance, has meant a convergence between most industrialized countries on this issue, which did not exist before. So, if 9/11 means a "slower but healthier" globalization process, then so much the better.

The second is the "detente" between the United States on the one hand, Russia and China on the other. Both Russia and China made a fundamental choice after 9/11: that of supporting the United States. For both countries it was a sincere choice and also rooted in self-interest. It was a sincere choice in particular for Russia, Putin's choice of insertion in the European and transatlantic world being I believe a sincere one. And the Chinese, for their part, mostly want to have good relations with the United States. Already on September 10 the bilateral relations between Washington and Beijing were much better than what they were six months ago. But 9/11 was also, of course, for both Russia and China, an opportunity to enlist Washington in their own "crusade" against what they call "Islamic terrorism", in Chechnya for Moscow, in Xinjiang for Beijing, and in Central Asia for both. Of course, we do not necessarily have to abide by their definition of Islamic terrorism, which encompasses Chechen and Ouighour nationalisms.

It is, however, a bit early to say that these will transform into long-term trends. For instance, l am not sure how long Russia and China will be happy to see US influence growing in Central Asia. And in Moscow, forces which oppose a close cooperation with the United States (what some would call a "sellout") are still very powerful. Some have begun to talk about the "Gorbachev syndrom".

Is NATO Becoming Irrelevant?

The third one is the growing irrelevance of NATO as an institution. I do share the view that 9/11 tends to bolster, at least for a while, relations between both sides of the Atlantic. But NATO itself is now in deep trouble. The invocation of Article 5 was an impressive show of solidarity, but it may also have been NATO's swan song.

Here, the fundamental step was not so much 9/11 as the Spring of 1999. Many in the US military and political establishment came out of Operation Allied Force thinking: "never again". They realized that in a major crisis, NATO was a constraint, because its structures and procedures implied a consensus at 19 in the North Atlantic Council - the price for the political legitimacy given by the Atlantic Alliance. So after 9/11, the US reaction to the Allies' show of support was basically to say: "thanks, and we'll call you if and when we need you". This puts a serious question mark on NATO's future. We now know that invoking Article 5 is not a guarantee for collective military action (I mean of course a serious one - not five AWACS in the Northern American skies). We can predict that the US will reduce its military presence in common operations, making them increasingly "European" rather than "NATO" ones. We also know that NATO is totally unfit to be the institution responsible for transatlantic cooperation in the prevention of terrorism. Finally, the new cooperation between Russia and NATO will make the very relevance of Article 5 increasingly questionable. What is left? What is left is NATO as some kind of a "military clearing house", that's it. To be sure, NATO might be "rejuvenated" by a "big-bang-like" enlargement, which now becomes politically thinkable. But such a "wide enlargement" would also make NATO loook like a "mini-OSCE with teeth". But it will also make consensus increasingly difficult. For serious military operations, the US will now rely excslusively on ad hoc coalitions. The EU, on the other hand, will have to take an increasing part in ensuring the security of the Euro-atlantic area. That in itself would justify a renewed emphasis on the Helsinki Goals.

There are, finally, questions about possible changes in the basic orientations of US policy, in particular those of the Bush administration.

A Bigger Role for the Federal State in the US

The most important one change may be what I would call the return of the federal State in the US. In the past decades, there have been growing challenges to Washington's role and, accordingly, a growing influence of the federate States. It seems that this trend has been reversed. The new keywords are homeland security and economic intervention from Washington, both implying an increased relative influence of the federal State.

At the international level, much has been said about a possible US turn away from unilateralism towards multilateralism. Here I think we should exercise caution. What we have is what I would call "multilateralism of the moment". I think that what Richard Haas was calling, before 9/11, "à la carte multilateralism", would also be appropriate. As a UN diplomat put it, the Washington conservatives have not been "touched by grace". They have just realized that it was in their interest to have some UN support - especially since this support came free of charge, since nobody suggested that the retaliation was conducted by the UN, and self-defense was giving a wide margin of manoeuver to the United States. Likewise, Washington's renewed interest in international cooperation against the financing of terrorism is driven by immediate interests, not by a sudden conversion to the virtues of multilateralism. Finally, the post-9/11 conference on the verification of the BW convention showed that Washington had no intention of radically changing its policy choices in this area. And the increasingly powerful voices which call for harsher policies towards Iraq and North Korea are not exactly thriving for multilateral action.

A side comment on US vulnerability. Some have suggested that 9/11 is a "fundamental change in US history" because "now the Americans know that their territory is vulnerable". I find this judgment unsubstantiated. I think that this fundamental change happened in the 20th century. In my view the key dates were 1941 (Pearl Harbour), 1957 (the Sputnik launch), and 1993 (the first World Trade Center bombings). Not 2001.

Likewise, I challenge the idea according to which 9/11 will force the United States to be more engaged in world affairs. The reverse could be true as well. After the "war on terrorism" is over, the concept of returning to a "sanctuary" protected by missile defense and border controls could be an equally attractive option. As Steven Miller puts it in a recent article in the Washington Quarterly, 9/11 has also shown the costs of international involvement.

Some have said that there were links between the 9/11 attacks and the Palestinian question. Of course, it is preposterous to claim that the attacks were motivated by the lack of the Bush administration involvement in the Middle East peace process (which should rather be called the "war process" these days). And of course, Osama Bin Laden does not give a damn about Palestinians. But in the aftermath of 9/11, the perception has developed that the current US administration was not giving enough attention to the Palestinian issue. Hence the Bush statement on supporting a Palestinian State, which was an important milestone. Whether it heralds a radical reorientation of US policy is another matter. But in any case the days of "benign neglect" towards the Middle East conflict, which was the attitude of the Bush administration during its first six months, are clearly over.

In 2010 Iran Will Be an Ally of the US

In the longer run, there are also important potential geostrategic consequences in US strategy in the Greater Middle East. Before 9/11, the relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia had already begun to evolve, Ryadh becoming a more assertive ally, one less prone to abide by US choices and preferences. Signs of a new attitude were given in the area of oil pricing, for instance. We should remember that the Saudi dimension in the 9/11 events is central. Al-Qaeda's main stated goal is to see the US out of the peninsula. Most hijackers were carrying Saudi passports. It would be surprising if the post-9/11 crisis did not contribute to a rethinking of US policy towards the Gulf. Especially since after 9/11 Iran has shown an attitude which was after all not radically different from the Saudi one. Let us make a bet: in 2010, Iran will be once again an ally of the United States.

Another possible shift in alliances involves the Indian subcontinent. Here the change has been brutal. In the past decade, US-Indian ties had become more important. The 1998 nuclear tests accelerated the recognition of India as a potential major power. The Bush administration was getting ready to make it a key asset in a future policy of containing China. Whereas Pakistan was coming dangerously close to become a member of the "rogue States" category. Then came 9/11, and then everything changed. The United States will now probably try to play the role of a "balancer" between New Delhi and Islamabad.

Losers and Winners of War Against Terrorism

The "war against terrorism" has produced many geopolitical winners. Winners include Iran, seen as a "moderating" power. India and Pakistan are both winners and losers. The BJP's international strategy is in shambles. But Afghanistan's new government will be in much better terms with New Delhi than the previous one. Pakistan is also both a winner and a loser. It has gained back a respectability that it had lost, with immediate economic and financial benefits. But the strategy of the ISI, which was to gain a "strategic depth" in the West with control over Afghanistan, now needs to be rewritten.

Indeed, another casualty of the 9/11 events is the concept of "rogue States". Washington engaged in the war with a "you are either with us or against us" attitude. (This is what Jacques Amalric, a French journalist, called "the purification of alliances".) Rogue States were those who supposedly did not abide by international norms. But what we saw is that there were clear differences between the reactions of States such as Libya or Iran, one the one hand, and of Iraq, on the other. Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction was a key criterion to distinguish "rogue States". But for Pakistan, which imports and exports missiles and weapons of mass destruction, sanctions have been lifted. The idea of "rogue States" may not be completely irrelevant to US policy, as shown by President Bush's speech of December 11, 2001. But one may question its relevance since its membership appears so fluid now.


This is only the beginning. We have not seen it all. The fall of Kandahar and the final assault on Tora Bora do not mean that the "war on terrorism" is over. It is mainly the end of the first chapter.

There will be more military operations. The quenching of terrorism in countries such as Egypt, the Philippines, Sudan or Yemen will not be easy, and will stir internal tensions. There will be ramifications of the crisis in other troubled areas of the world. Kashmir might be the next "sacred cause" for Islamic fundamentalists. The future of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia remains very uncertain.

And we may be in for another surprise. Who knows, for instance, the instructions given by Bin Laden to Al-Qaida cells in case he dies? We know his philosophy. In an interview given to the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, he said: "We love death. The United States loves life. That is the big difference between us." He may believe that this is his strength. I believe, on the contrary, that it is ours.

Thank you for your attention.