BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: In Depth: September 11 one year on  
News Front Page
Middle East
South Asia
Talking Point
Country Profiles
In Depth
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
September 11 one year on Sunday, 1 September, 2002, 19:28 GMT 20:28 UK
Analysis: Pressures of peacekeeping
Berlin wall falls
The fall of Communism changed alliances

Until recently the major powers assumed that they could only cope with challenges from their major adversaries by entering into alliances. This would enable them to pool their military resources.

Alliance, however, was never straightforward. It meant one country potentially accepting all the costs of war on behalf of another.

In return they would want some say in how any war would be fought, a place in the command structure, an understanding of the political objectives and some confidence that all members of the alliance would pull their weight.

Even the world's lone superpower turns out to need partners

Both world wars of the last century were determined by the way that alliances were formed and then managed.

The Cold War was between two alliances, each led by a superpower. It ended when one alliance, led by the Soviet Union, fell apart as a result of internal political change.

Nato purpose

With Communism discredited and Moscow no longer prepared to impose its will on satellite states there was nothing to hold the Warsaw Pact together. Nato, the American-led alliance held together, yet questions were inevitably asked about whether, with Europe no longer divided, it still had a purpose.

To the extent that it did it seemed to be largely political - providing a means by which American influence in Europe could continue to be exercised and an organisation that former members of the Warsaw Pact (initially Poland Hungary and the Czech Republic) could join to demonstrate their pro-Western credentials.

Vicious conflicts began to develop in the former Yugoslavia, but the initial model for Western intervention in the conflicts was not the traditional alliance but UN peacekeeping operations, set up to up hold ceasefires.

These were traditionally assumed to be militarily undemanding, because they are only undertaken with the consent of the former belligerents, and best served politically by contingents from a wide range of countries.

The diverse composition of the force would illustrate the interest of the international community in a durable peace but there could be no expectation that it could be turned into an effective instrument of war.

The trouble with the interventions in the Balkans, and in particular Bosnia, was that the fighting had not actually stopped and the consent for the presence of a UN force was always conditional.

Coalition terms

By the mid-1990s it was accepted, even in the UN, that robust forces were often needed and that this in turn would require some of the best units from the stronger military powers.

It was possible in doing this to benefit from the fact that Nato countries have learned to work closely together in an integrated command, but these interventions could not be based on countries being obliged to act out of alliance solidarity.

The appropriate notion instead seemed to be that of the 'coalition of the willing'.

A number of countries able to act would get together and agree force structures, command arrangements and rules of engagement.

Their roles as agents of the international community might be confirmed by a UN Security Council resolution, but they would not be under direct UN control.

In March 1999 the latest Balkans crisis became so serious that a coalition of the willing did not seem adequate.

Air power

For the first time in its history Nato as an alliance went to war as Serb oppression of the Albanian majority in Kosovo reached an unacceptable level.

Nato troops in the Balkans
Nato relations were tested by the Balkans conflicts
The operation succeeded, in that Serb forces were eventually withdrawn, but it went through many setbacks.

Although the bulk of the air power used by Nato was provided by the United States, the Americans became caught up in arguments with allies over appropriate targets, and the risk of causing civilian casualties, and over appropriate strategies, as the British made the case for using land power as well.

Although the arguments within the US military machine often appeared to be as intense as those within Nato, Washington drew the conclusion that it disliked the constraints on its freedom of manoeuvre resulting from alliance.

After an even more dismal experience with a UN force in Somalia in 1993-4, it had already concluded that its forces must never be put under a UN command.

Furthermore, it was by no means clear why the United States needed to work with others, as its growing military strength was putting it into a league all of its own.


This shaped the American response to 11 September. Although Nato immediately declared this to come under Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty, viewing an attack on one as an attack on all, this determination did not lead the Americans to work through Nato as they took on the Taleban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.

They took some help from their closest allies, particularly Britain, but made it clear that politically and militarily this was to be American led.

Events demonstrated the difficulty of acting alone.

Saddam Hussein
Partnerships may again be starined by action on Iraq
The Americans worked with Afghans opposed to the Taleban, and then found that these local allies had their own agendas.

During the later stages of the campaign they were far more ready to draw on support from their more established allies.

Furthermore, when looking to stabilise Afghanistan and help it reconstruct they initially thought that this was a job that might be handed over to others, including the UN, to organise as they choose without American participation. In practice they have found it difficult to walk away.

Looking forward to possible operations against Iraq the importance of partners again looms large, to provide bases as well as political support. Even the world's lone superpower turns out to need partners.

New York despatches





See also:

01 Sep 02 | September 11 one year on
01 Sep 02 | September 11 one year on
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more September 11 one year on stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more September 11 one year on stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |