A Fragile World

September 11 shattered the old certainties. What will arise in their place?

Not even five months have passed. But already, that crystal-clear September morning is fast becoming an historical memory, the way some of us still remember a November day in 1963 when the gunning down of a young American President seemed to mark the end of one age and the beginning of another. We sense that history will divide into "before September 11" and "after."

But what will the post-September 11 world look like? Nobody has definitive answers. But some key questions for the 21st century are now more in focus than ever.

One of the most important has to do with the sheer breadth and depth of American power. The U.S. was dominant before September 11. But it took America's swift, overwhelming military response to expose how vast the gap is between the U.S. and the rest of the world. What will the Bush Administration do with this power? A few months ago, Washington seemed to be disengaging. Nation-building was a dirty word, as was multilateralism. But in the wake of the Afghan war, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice promises the U.S. is "going to be there to help" struggling nations. That suggests a more engaged foreign policy.

The new times also bring tectonic shifts in geopolitics. Despite the euro's successful Jan. 31 launch, Europe is drifting into strategic irrelevance. China is the power to watch in Asia as Japan's economy declines. And the remodeling of the Middle East, a great hope of the 1990s, has fallen victim to the collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the maelstrom of September 11.

There are crucial economic questions as well. The inability of many developing nations to benefit clearly from globalization surely contributes to the hopelessness and poverty in which terrorism has flourished. How can this now be addressed by the world?

Finally, who are the rising players in this turbulent new landscape? We try to identify a few, from a top U.S. military strategist to an aggressive Russian oilman and a young Arab king who embodies some of his generation's yearning for change in the Middle East. These individuals will help define the post-September 11 order.

By John Rossant in Paris

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