In the blink of an eye, 16 years have passed since 9/11, but there is clearly a great need to understand more deeply what happened. This is absolutely not as simple as a long and hard fight against terrorism.
9/11 began a historical period: a period where terrorism attacked world peace and stability, and therefore became a focus of world politics. After the Cold War ended, the existence of two world systems ended. Capitalism entered a period of relatively stable development spanning the entire globe and entered a golden age, yet this era was disrupted not even a decade later by 9/11.
9/11 showed clearly that the current capitalist system around the world is essentially not a peacefully developing system. There are stark contradictions around it and within it, all the way from the bottom upwards, to the extent that parts of it are irreconcilable with one another. The Islamic world and the Western world – mainly the United States – are examples of this bipolar system and the two main sides of the struggle.
With regard to this situation, the U.S. is not being passive; rather, it is actively exploiting it to attack. Not one month after 9/11, the U.S. launched a war on Afghanistan, the speed of which led people to doubt that it had been a spontaneous decision. Immediately following this was the Iraq War, and following that there were a series of colorful revolutions in Central Asia and former states of the Soviet Union.
The U.S. began these two wars in the name of “counter-terrorism.” According to President George W. Bush, the world will not know peace until terrorism has been defeated. But in the end, the name of this objective is just a name. In reality, America’s goal was to overthrow the anti-American regimes of Afghanistan and Iraq and then control Central Asia and the Middle East.
What we particularly need to take note of is the very fashionable argument regarding this period of so-called “non-traditional security replacing traditional security” and the “conflict with non-state actors replacing traditional conflict between states.” The U.S. in fact never ignores any competition for power; the U.S. is fighting in the peripheries, that is, the areas that the U.S. is clearing and controlling or vying over with Russia and China, paving a way for close-quarter combat in the future.
As people have seen nowadays, the U.S.’s long and protracted battle has not been successful. Due to tough resistance, the U.S. has so far been unable to control the situation in Afghanistan and the Middle East. Instead, the impact of Russia’s strategy in the Middle East is clearly gaining strength. Anti-American sentiment exists in Iran and Syria, etc., and is even increasing somewhat. Turkey, traditionally an American ally, is also becoming less devoted to the U.S.; the entirety of the Middle East is beginning to turn a less favorable eye towards the U.S.
In this situation, U.S.-Russian competition is unlikely to end, but some kind of compromise cannot be ruled out. What needs to be noted is that the U.S. has still not compromised with the relevant powers in Afghanistan, instead only attempting to control the situation alone. Not long ago, the U.S. made the decision to reinforce troops in Afghanistan. The reason given for this was to prevent terrorists gaining power. This isn’t true, but the greater strategic intent is clear to see. Considering the impact of Afghanistan on the security of western China, and the important impact of the Belt and Road Initiative*, considering the recent actions of India towards China and considering the complex circumstances of East Asia, China cannot help but be somewhat affected.
The West’s anti-terrorist actions have resulted in terrorism becoming more globalized, the refugee crises becoming globalized and increasingly intense power struggles. It is clearly evident that during this period of “peace development” there are acutely intense and complicated struggles. During the days of the Cold War people were afraid of the clamor between nuclear powers. Nowadays, it is terrorism that makes people feel uneasy.
As a result, we have an unfair world order and unfair social justice systems, we are unable to heal social divisions and peace is currently fragile. We want to achieve enduring peace, not only to establish international strategic balance, but also to initiate a new phase of international politics. This is the strategic and moral point we should be grasping, and the international and historical responsibility we should be bearing.
The author is a researcher at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.
*Editor’s note: The Belt and Road Initiative is a development strategy of China’s leader Xi Jinping to encourage cooperation and connectivity among Eurasian countries, involving substantial infrastructure spending.