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Moises Montiel

9/11 or how we found out that the rules had changed

Understanding September 11th as a Latin American may end up in most cases in just throwing the argument aside by saying ‘these are things that happen to Americans’. Nevertheless, the assault on the World Trade Center, as well as other landmarks- of not only American but mainstream western civilization- meant a lot more than just an attack on the US. In fact, I would daresay that those hijacked and finally crashed planes signal the end of a turbulence period on the international system which starts –the turbulence, not the system- with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

However comforting the illusion of distance and of alienation from the comings and goings of Islamic fundamentalism might seem, they are and we are part of a single everything which exists simultaneously, which breathes and even has people and everything!. That image of the second plane crashing into the south tower of the WTC, that seems to play over and over in an infinite loop, the one that confirmed that it was no accident, was a clear hit to the Bush Administration, that much is clear. But at the same time, it sent a powerful message to the world: the game changed, the players have changed and even the board is not the same anymore.

There are theories in International Relations, arid but useful, which study states as agents interacting on the context of a system with it own processes and dynamics, which are defined by actors according to their capacities –such as the golden rule or ‘whoever has the gold makes the rules’- and other variables. Nevertheless, these systems are far from eternal or infallible. They experience, as an outcome of the interaction of their parts, relatively calm periods or periods of turbulence. Even, given the right conditions, a complete collapse. The failure of the central-planning model of the USSR, preceded by the crumbling of the Berlin Wall as a symbol for the choice of the McDonalds happy meal, meant not only the downfall of communism, but the start of a chaotic spiral in a system that used to have well defined rules, with checks and controls among its members.

The Cold War is often represented as an ideological standoff between western liberal capitalism and central-planning eastern communism – most notably between the US and the USSR-. Of course, these fine gentlemen were too civilized to massacre each other and thus chose to avail themselves of peoples and conflicts to split the world in the guise of a Risk game board. Now then, was this a bad order or was it inherently unjust? I would argue that, regardless of such considerations, it was beyond doubt a secure and stable order. Two blocks organized in a more or less clear fashion, under the patronage of the two world superpowers, which –like the parents of children in a playground- would supervise that nobody hurt each other too badly and who knew themselves all to able to annihilate each other by means of nuclear weapons. Hence, the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction –or just the Mad Doctrine- was conceived. This was at the same time a danger and a guarantee of stability.

I’ll explain myself. The Soviets knew that the Americans had a significant amount of missiles pointed towards not only Moscow, but also the main red capitals of the world. At the same time, the Americans knew that their adversaries had a sizeable amount of the same weaponry locked on Europe and America. The ones had Cuba and the others had Turkey. This two-way checkmate in which making the next move would equal destroying the world fourteen times over was then called detenté. And it was an optimal assurance that the US and the USSR would –or should- never go to war. Now then, said certainty stemmed from the virtual oligopoly of major powers on nuclear weapons –the so-called nuclear club which endures to the date, although its apparent advantages seem to dilute in terms of collective security to this day-. With the downfall of the USSR and the apparent triumph of the liberal capitalism, this guarantor task should have fallen to the new Russian Federation. However, a significant amount of those missiles and devices and uranium shipments simply ‘disappeared’ from the books and the transports that carried them.

The turbulence then begins to manifest itself in a world where there is only ‘one’ military superpower and a growing number of new powers that become prominent in different issues and contexts of the international political agenda. Turbulence occurs when the Soviet Union is no longer able to keep in check its’ potentially bellicose satellites for the simple reason that it no longer exists. Remember now those gentlemen with beard whom were helped to shake off the Soviets in Afghanistan? ¿Or those irregular militias to whom weapons and training were provided so that communism would not eat their children?. It is obvious that the victorious America cannot keep up with the collective security needs of the entire world –there used to be two superpowers for that job, remember? -. And it should be noted that there is still and dangerously large amount of psychopaths who are highly efficient in the business of killing people. Thus, political violence as an instrument available to non-state actors found, within the fracture of the system, the ideal place to grow healthy and strong.

It is precisely these groups –or organizations composed by thousands of people-, faceless, without government halls, without national flags, without visible headquarters or national anthems, but with plenty of resources both financially and logistically who have now become the challengers of the monopoly of the state over violence. They have given the coup de grace to the Cold War system and announced it loudly –regrettably by crashing the planes on government and private landmarks-. Thus, on September eleventh the world came to know that the game had changed. And this first message was loud and clear. The unthinkable happened. The US, the vanquisher of the Cold War saw its territory defiled by foreigners who cam chaos and destruction in hand for the first time since 1848.

In this manner, Al Qaida announced the system had finally changed. That the turbulence which took place since 1991 had come to and end, and that this would not be a readjustment within the same safe and reliable system where Americans and Soviets would guarantee that they would not let the world blow to pieces. We are talking now of a complete change of system –as opposed to change within the system-, and the only rule that there seemed to be in the new system, is that all the old ones didn’t apply anymore.

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