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Review of 2001 Tuesday, 1 January, 2002, 10:50 GMT
US finds it cannot stand alone
Aftermath of the 11 September attacks on the World Trade Center in New York
The attacks changed US policy completely
Bridget Kendall

Even before George W Bush became president, many countries were concerned about an apparent trend in the United States towards unilateralism.

Mostly prompted by a Republican-controlled Congress, the US refused to pay dues owed to the United Nations; new US legislation imposed sanctions on foreign firms and countries which sought to do business with Cuba; and Washington objected to international treaties or agreements, including one banning land mines and one to set up an International Criminal Court.

But the new Bush Administration seemed intent on retreating from international commitments even further.

By the end of the summer of 2001, only six months into his presidency, Mr Bush had declared the US was withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol to combat global warming, going back on the deal negotiated by the previous administration.

Model kill unit for anti-ballistic missile system on display at the Pentagon
The US was unyielding on missile defence
He insisted he would push ahead with a planned missile defence shield, even if this meant alarming European allies and destabilising relations with Russia and China.

His administration declared it would not approve a worldwide agreement for a verifiable ban on biological weapons, and some senior US figures even hinted that the US should no longer commit itself to any arms control treaties, for fear of limiting the possible development of new weaponry.

About face

The 11 September attacks brought a dramatic change.

As Americans reeled from the shock of what had happened, the idea of striking back unilaterally seemed unwise and impractical.

A shadowy global terrorist organisation with sleeper cells in possibly dozens of countries could not be unearthed and taken out by the US acting on its own.

International agreements, instead of being dismissed as cumbersome traps that tied America's hands, were suddenly useful tools to oblige other countries to join the new global war on terrorism.

The UN, from being criticised by US politicians as an unwieldy and expensive talking shop, became an important forum for securing international backing for US retaliation.

Swiftly Congress released the back dues it had refused to hand over to the UN.

Methodically the Bush administration began reviewing its relations with the outside world and wooing new friends.

British support

As ever, Britain was anxious to demonstrate that in times of crises it was the first country ready to come to the aid of its American cousins.

Other US allies, in Europe and beyond, were also swift to show solidarity.

Tony Blair meets George Bush in Washington
Mr Blair and Mr Bush saw eye to eye
For the first time ever, Nato invoked a clause that required all its members to come to the military defence of a member state.

Behind the sympathy was patent relief that the US seemed to have realised it could not always act alone and did need allies.

There were other immediate gestures of support, just as significant, especially from Russia's President Vladimir Putin.

Not only did he offer the US extensive collaboration on intelligence sharing, but he over-ruled his generals to give Washington a green light to forge deals to use Central Asian republics as launching pads for operations inside Afghanistan.

In return, not only did Mr Putin win the promise of closer relations with the European Union and Nato, he secured new understanding, if not sympathy, for the harsh methods the Russian army was using in its own war on terrorism.

Now, ten years after the collapse of Soviet Communism, the Kremlin leader was closer to becoming a fully fledged member of the club of Western nations than he had ever been.

Islamabad link

Just as crucial was the change in relations between the US and Pakistan.

Until September, General Pervez Musharraf had been viewed with considerable suspicion.

General Pervez Musharraf with President Bush
Mr Musharraf came in from the cold
Ever since Pakistan (and India) had horrified the Western world by testing nuclear weapons, it had been the target of crippling international sanctions.

General Musharraf had seized power in a military coup, and his country was one of the only three in the world to maintain diplomatic relations with Afghanistan's medieval Taleban rulers.

But a new alliance with Pakistan was not an option but a necessity if the US was to pursue Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network in Afghanistan.

President Musharraf's prize was the lifting of sanctions, new aid for Pakistan's economy, and a chance to be welcomed back from the cold into international respectability.

Support from the rest of the Muslim world for US military action in Afghanistan and the wider war on terrorism was also crucial.

But here the picture gets a little more complicated.

The glaring exceptions are Iraq - one of the very few countries to refuse to condemn the 11 September attacks - and Iran.

But most of the rulers of the Gulf States were already US allies.

In the light of what had happened and under considerable US pressure, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates agreed to break off diplomatic ties with the Taleban.

Most Arab and other Muslim governments voiced their readiness to co-operate with US efforts to track down supporters of Bin Laden.

It is true, there was considerable dismay at the idea of US air strikes against Afghanistan, another Muslim country.

But in the end, there was no concerted effort by Muslim nations to block US action.

Arab countries focused on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the need for more US engagement and commitment to the idea of eventual Palestinian statehood.

Limited effect

So did the balance of international relations change forever on 11 September?

Perhaps not as much as some were hoping.

Some new relations did not bear immediate fruit.

An Israeli soldier prevents a Palestinian woman from approaching a car that was attacked
The Israeli-Palestinian standoff continued
Iran condemned the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but swiftly returned to anti-American rhetoric when US strikes on Afghanistan were contemplated.

Though Iran's relations with European nations improved and Tehran took active steps to mend fences with Pakistan, its suspicions of its main foe remained.

In the Middle East, expectations that the crisis might provide a momentum towards new peace talks also soon faltered.

The US has sent a new envoy to the region, but a new round of suicide bombers and harsh Israeli retaliation dashed hopes of a swift return to negotiations.

Even Russia, as usual, remained ultimately enigmatic.

An enthusiastic US-Russian summit, complete with a folksy visit to Mr Bush's Texas ranch, failed to solve the disagreement over the missile defence programme.

US President Bush hosts Vladimir Putin and his wife Lyudmila at his Texas ranch
Friendly summit, but no deal
And in Kabul, the hasty arrival of a Russian military team - ostensibly to set up a field hospital but more probably to demonstrate that Moscow retained an interest in the new Afghanistan - was uncomfortably reminiscent of the Russian "dash to Pristina" which ensured Russian troops were the first foreign soldiers to reach "liberated" Kosovo.

But the most serious question still unanswered is what long term impact the events of 11 September will have on US foreign policy.

Already Afghanistan has shown that, for all the talk of international coalition, the US prefers to pursue its military goals on its own terms.

Few allies were involved in either the air strikes or offensive ground operations.

Washington preferred to run its own war, using offers of troops and other military support from other nations sparingly.

Will the international coalition hold beyond Afghanistan?

As the year ends Mr Bush faces several choices: He can launch strikes on Iraq and perhaps Somalia - both places where the Pentagon considers there is unfinished business to complete - claiming this is the next and inevitable stage of the war on terrorism.

But he risks fracturing the international coalition, possibly losing support not just from the Muslim world but from some close allies in Europe.

And that would be not just a diplomatic loss.

It could also lose the US essential partners in the invisible war of shared intelligence and police and financial investigations - all reasons for the United States to think hard before pursuing its own goals at the expense of international collaboration.

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