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How the world has (and hasn't) changed

Oct 25th 2001
From The Economist print edition

Remember September 10th?  

ON SEPTEMBER 11th, when millions around the world watched with astonishment and horror as two hijacked aircraft flew into the World Trade Centre and another into the Pentagon, the world suddenly seemed completely different. Such an event may not have been unimaginable—something like it had been included in umpteen (无数的)academic and military think-pieces about future threats—but it was unexpected, and deeply shocking. It was a declaration of war by act if not in words, and a war has indeed ensued(跟着发生, 继起), with air strikes beginning in Afghanistan on October 7th and bioterrorism attacks being discovered in America at around the same time. To that extent, the first reaction was correct: the world has changed. But what of deeper, or at least longer-term, changes?

The plainest answer to that question is that much depends on how the war proceeds. Barely three weeks after the bombing began, the campaign is merely in its early stages. So far, it is more striking how little has happened in the war than how much, in one good sense and one potentially worrying one. The good sense is that Osama bin Laden's hope that war in Afghanistan would radicalize millions of Muslims has not yet been fulfilled. The potential worry, which may be premature or just blinded by this especially foggy war, is that America has not yet shown signs of a willingness to risk casualties (人员伤亡)among its own soldiers in the cause of unseating (使失去资格)the Taliban regime or catching Mr bin Laden and his al-Qaeda terrorists. The bombing has weakened the Taliban, but neither America nor its Afghan allies-of-convenience have gained control of any important parts of the country. (来源:英语学习门户 http://www.EnglishCN.com)

No army wants its soldiers to die, but a fight on the ground will have to be risked if America is to achieve its aims of capturing or killing the al-Qaeda leaders and dislodging (驱逐)their Taliban protectors. Mr bin Laden has claimed that the American “superpower” is really no power at all because it will not bear casualties. After the attack on their homeland, Americans may be about to prove him wrong. He had better not be right.

Faster, clearer
What else has changed? Divide it into three: tendencies that have accelerated; dispositions that have been clarified; and things that have either plainly changed, or plainly not.

Chief among the accelerations has been the move towards economic recession in America, Asia and Western Europe. This was already likely before September 11th, as the bursting of the high-tech bubble was hitting corporate investment quickly and consumer spending more gradually, especially in America but also elsewhere. Confidence is decisive in determining the willingness of individuals and companies to spend their money, so the terrorist attacks have naturally made things sharply worse. There are compensating forces: cheaper oil, so far, as demand drops and production remains high; increased spending on security and, in future, on defence; and a greater willingness among governments to boost demand through monetary and fiscal policy. But these positive forces remain weaker than the negative ones. How long the recession lasts will depend above all on confidence—which in turn will depend on the war.

The other main acceleration has been the maturing of George Bush's administration in America. All new presidential teams take time to settle down and end their early scrapping, and this one was certainly no exception. Chances are, by the end of this year it would already have found some sort of balance between its unilateral (单方面, 单边的), America-first, instincts and its need to work with other countries to achieve its aims. September 11th did not, in other words, produce a sudden change in the Bush administration's stance; it accelerated a process which would have happened anyway.

Which other countries can America now work with? The answer is surprisingly many, at least when dealing with the direct task of the war in Afghanistan. What is harder is to tell which of these surprising alliances is likely to be opportunistic and thus short-lived, and which could endure. In another article we try to untangle (解开)the webs connecting not only the traditional superpowers of America, Russia and China but also many smaller or less heavily armed countries.

The enthusiasm shown by Russia for America's cause has been particularly notable. In part, this can be explained by narrow self-interest in dealing with its own Muslim war, in Chechnya. Beyond that, however, September 11th does appear to have cast a bright, clarifying light on a broad area of overlapping interests between the old cold-war adversaries. Nothing has really changed to make Russia more co-operative in the Balkans, less antagonistic (反对的, 敌对的)towards NATO enlargement, and more receptive to negotiation over missile defence and the anti-ballistic missile treaty (and these dispositions are still disputed by some powerful Russians). But Russia's basic interest in dealing with the West rather than confronting it, and America's in facilitating this, have become plainer to see. More tentatively(.试验性地, 暂时地), the same may be true of Iran: the room for a stand-offish (冷淡的)sort of co-operation had long been there, but this was made clearer by September 11th.

Finally, the things that really have—or plainly have not—changed. One that has changed is covered in another article, on Northern Ireland. One that hasn't is the conflict in Israel's occupied territories

The clearest change, though, is in Pakistan's relationship with America and with it, perhaps, the prospects for negotiations with India over Kashmir. Another can be found in Japan's new willingness to bend its constitution and provide logistical support for the American military effort. It may not matter in this campaign, but it could well prove important in some future conflict.  In a turbulent world, continuity can be comforting. But not that sort.
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