2 February 2002




It has become a truism that the world will never again be the same after the terrorist attacks of 11 September last year.  For many of us around the world who sat dumbfounded in front of our TV sets, the events of that day were among the most traumatic that we had ever personally witnessed.   Why were we so deeply affected and what are the implications for the future?


These are the questions that I – a sympathetic outsider from a distant country in Africa – would like to address tonight.


At the end of the day, the loss of life – while terrible – was small by comparison with the numbers of people who have died and are dying in bitter, untelevised conflicts around the world.  The destruction of property was devastating – but still reflected only the tiniest proportion of the vast wealth and resources of this country.


And yet the events of 11 September have reverberated around the world.  They have deeply affected the economy of the United States and, indeed, of the entire international community.  They have been a major factor in the decision-making of companies whether or not they should invest in new projects and factories; they affected the decision of hundreds of millions of people around the world regarding where and whether they should go abroad on business visits or for their annual vacations.  They have had a devastating effect of the air travel industry.  Millions of people have decided not to fly – or to fly as little as possible – because of the terrible scenes they saw on their TV sets.  There is nothing rational about this.  Flying remains the by far the safest way to travel and the best and quickest way of getting from point A to point B.  So why have the events of 11 September had such a devastating effect on us?


I should like to suggest the following reasons:



Whether we like or not, we are living in a world in which change is not only fundamental and accelerating: it is also increasingly unpredictable. Some of the main developments that have fundamentally transformed the world since 1989, were entirely unforeseen only fifteen years ago:  think of


No-one foresaw the events of 11 September, yet, as we have observed, they have created a new reality and a new framework within which we are all going to have to operate.


People in the West and especially in the United States have grown used to living in a fairly predictable and secure environment.  The last significant attack on American territory was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941.  The last armed conflict on American soil was the Civil War.  Then, on 9 September 2001, and without warning, the United States was under attack.  We watched in horror as symbols of the United States economic and military power were destroyed or seriously damaged.  Suddenly, everyone  felt vulnerable.


Secondly, the events of 9 September illustrated the degree to which we now live in a globalised world.  Who would have imagined that the grievances of Moslem fanatics based in caves in one of the most remote and backward countries in the world, could possibly have an impact on the high-tech nerve centre of global capitalism in down-town New York?


The attacks on the United States were a global event.  People all round the world watched them unfold from hour to hour on television sets from Sydney to Stockholm; from Toronto to Tokyo; from Mexico City to Cape Town. Virtually every person on the planet with access to a TV set as drawn personally into the crisis through the omnipresence of the media.


One of the central implications of globalisation is that we cannot ignore crises and grievances in other parts of the world.  We can no longer dismiss ongoing conflicts in distant third-world countries with 30 second segments on the evening news.  In a shrinking world, the problems of one region will inevitably become the problems of other regions and ultimately of the whole world:


The events of 11 September have also high-lighted the United States’ global role.  Indeed, if it were not for its pre-eminent position in the international community, it is unlikely that America would ever have been a target.  However, because it is the sole surviving super power, someone somewhere in the world is likely to blame the United States for any problem that might arise in the international community.


This places an awesome responsibility on United States foreign policy:



These include:


The growing gap between rich and poor in the world; The gap between the poorest and richest fifths of the world’s nations has widened from 30 to 1 in 1960 to 78 to 1 in 1994.


We cannot consign non-performing economies to a basket-case category outside of the mainstream of the world economy.   The reason is that many of the conflicts that contribute to global instability have their roots in poverty and under-development.  Eleven of the thirty poorest countries – including Rwanda, Burundi, Afghanistan, Sudan, Liberia, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo – have in recent years been wracked by devastating wars.


The United States and its first world allies can help to address this situation by promoting economic growth in the least developed societies by helping to remove some of the obstacles which at present hobble their economies.


The second great threat to global peace that the United States and its allies in the international community will have to address is the inability of different cultural, ethnic and religious communities to co-exist peacefully within the same countries.  The reality is that wars seldom take place between countries these days.  In the year 2000 only two of the 25 significant conflicts throughout the world were between countries; the other 25 were within countries, primarily between religious, ethnic and cultural communities.


All this confronts the international community with the need to devise principles, approaches and mechanisms to deal with the relationships between groups in multi-communal states.   It is possible for such communities to co-exist provided that minority rights are properly observed and if all those involved abide by certain clear rules of behaviour.


In our own complex, multicultural society in South Africa we are learning that we can live together harmoniously provided that we accept approaches that include:


Finally, the United States as the pre-eminent global power, will need to take cognisance of the threat posed by religious and fanaticism and political ideology.


Fanatics, like Osama Bin Laden, have introduced a dimension of irrationality into global affairs.  These are not people who bargain, who put demands, who wish to see mutually positive outcomes. On the contrary, they are motivated by blind hatred and by a cold-blooded determination to destroy and to kill, without remorse and without compassion.  As they themselves boast:  they embrace death.


They represent a stark rejection of everything that the modern state has come to represent: economic growth; consumerism; rationality; human rights and free institutions.  They could not have chosen more symbolic targets than the twin towers of the World Trade Centre, the twin pillars of triumphal capitalism at the gateway to the United States’ greatest city.  The fact that they have now been reduced to rubble is still difficult for many of us to accept.