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9/11 As a Cause of Paradigm Shift?

Ehteshami, Anoush

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Paradigm shifts often occur in moments of trauma and profound dislocation. After a relatively long period of stability in the international system after 1945, the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 has ushered in four dramatic powerful quakes in succession to destabilise the balance of power system which had been built around the superpower camps. These quakes have shaken the very foundations of the international systemic structures which had held the system steady for the previous 50 years. The end of the Cold War in 1989 was the first profound dislocation, bringing in its wake two further shocks: the end of bipolarity on the one hand, and; the rapid spread of the capitalist mode of production on the other. Globalization took off, spinning such theoretically diverse perspectives as Fukuyama’s ‘end of history’ and the ‘clash of civilizations’, first noted by Bernard Lewis in 1990, but popularized by Samuel Huntington in his 1993 Foreign Affairs article. But the most profound, coming some time later, was by far the most traumatic and horrific. The 11th of September 2001 terrorist attacks on US targets on American soil were a resounding shock to an already uncertain international system. It was this event and its impact on the public psyche which may have finally caused a profound and real paradigm shift. That 9/11 did so in American thinking and foreign policy conduct, particularly in relation to the Middle East, is the subject of this paper. Looking back, it is clear that the trauma of 9/11 reinforced four existing trends in US policy circles in terms of their conceptualization and responses to the complex and dangerous world around them: • To ensure American supremacy and predominance in both economic and military and terms; • To adopt pre-emption as a central feature of US foreign policy; • To seek to defeat global terrorism and prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, which could also fall into the hands of terrorists; and, • To spread democracy to the ‘greater/broader’ Middle East as a political and security imperative of the United States. It is the latter objective that I have singled out as the main feature of the paradigm shift which has followed the uncertainties of the post-Cold War international system and the end of bipolarity. Democracy promotion has been a strong feature of American foreign policy since the beginnings of the twentieth century, but the form it is taking today and the manner in which it is being articulated and pursued speaks of something quite different. Democracy promotion has become the cornerstone of US’ new thinking on the ‘broader’ Middle East.


Ehteshami, A. (2007). 9/11 As a Cause of Paradigm Shift?

Online Publication Date Jun 25, 2007
Publication Date Jun 25, 2007
Deposit Date Aug 4, 2008
Publicly Available Date Aug 4, 2008
Series Title School of Government and International Affairs Research Working Papers
Publisher URL


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