Politics, media and war: 9/11 and its aftermaths
Politics, media and war: 9/11 and its aftermaths

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1.2 Preview: International relations and 9/11

Introduction by Richard Heffernan

Richard Heffernan

Hello, and welcome to Politics, Media and War: 9/11 and its Impacts. I'm Richard Heffernan, Reader in Government at the Open University.

We can all remember, quite easily, where we were and what we were doing when we heard of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States. Most of us saw footage of the attacks and the destruction of the twin towers on television or online, either in real time on the day itself or on subsequent days. It’s widely recognised that the events of that terrible day, which saw some 3,000 people (mostly civilians) lose their lives, have had a considerable impact, not only in the United States, but throughout the world, and here in the United Kingdom. 9/11 can, in some respects, be seen as a pivotal event in helping shape the contemporary world in which we live.

By exploring the varied geopolitical causes and consequences of 9/11, this course will provide a simple introduction to some of the cutting-edge issues in international politics. It will help you understand recent global events, make sense of the public policies 9/11 prompted, and help you be best placed to evaluate contemporary debates.

Throughout the course, you’ll encounter a number of readings drawn from a wide range of perspectives and reflecting the views of a variety of opinion formers, among them politicians, policy makers, commentators and academics.

Along with my colleague Paul Lewis, I’ve authored the first part of this course – sections two through to five – where you’ll examine the international consequences of 9/11. You’ll do this by considering the varied impacts of the terrorist threat posed by individuals and groups who claim Islamic legitimisation for their actions. You’ll also assess how Western governments, specifically the United States and the United Kingdom, have sought to respond to this threat.

Modern terrorism can be witnessed at work before and after 9/11 in countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Israel and Indonesia. Increasingly, this threat reflects the modern phenomenon of ‘asymmetrical warfare’ as is waged by non state and state-sponsored actors. As you will see, such trans-border terrorist violence constitutes a direct challenge to the authority of all states. But it particularly challenges the right of a ‘great power’ such as the United States, currently the dominant world power, to regulate the international use of violence. Now, perhaps more than ever before, every country is or can be affected by what goes on inside other states, particularly those we define as ‘failing’ or ‘rogue’ states, which may possess weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), and can be seen to pose a threat to their neighbours, their region and, quite possibly, the wider world.

In the wake of 9/11, then, the United States and many of its allies, foremost among them the United Kingdom, re-orientated their foreign and defence policies. This was an effort to counter the threats they felt they faced from such states and from non-state actors who could use weapons of mass destruction and other non-conventional means to attack them. This strategy was evidenced, in different forms, in the intervention in Afghanistan from October 2001 and in the war in Iraq from March 2003. In sections two through to five, then, you’ll examine the case the United States makes for its ‘war on terror’; consider the scholarly interpretations of the US’s policy that have been offered by a number of leading international relations academics; and explore the claims made by supporters and opponents of the US-led ‘war on terror’.

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