In this article Niall Ferguson reflects on how life may change between now and 2011, especially in the USA, and what lasting impacts the terrorist attacks of September 11th are likely to have on the course of history. Unlike many other commentators on recent events, he does not see this as a watershed in world affairs.
Admittedly nothing will ever be quite the same as before: New York threatens to become obsessed with security and the US economy will suffer the consequences. Nevertheless, this prospect (which he describes as 'sombre') is not the result of September 11th. Rather, he argues, it is the product of four strong trends that were already observable before that date:
1) The worldwide reach of terrorism: the techniques used are not new, but the novelty is that now the US is no longer spared from attack and will have to make this part of their domestic security arrangements.
2) The economic slowdown which had already begun more than a year earlier in the US and which could worsen on account of two major weaknesses: first, the fact that globalization is creating more and more have-nots; and secondly, the very real risk of a third energy crisis that could bring to an end the era of the combustion engine.
3) The shift, for the US, from informal imperialism (simply through political and economic influence) to formal imperialism (involving actual intervention on the ground and setting up 'protectorates' along neo-colonial lines).
4) The political disintegration of multi-cultural nation-states: if there is to be a clash of civilizations, it will not be between two major blocs (the West versus unified Islam) but between ethnic or religious communities within a single state, as happened in Bosnia or Rwanda .
These trends, Niall Ferguson argues, already existed before the wave of terrorist attacks in September 2001, and their consequences for national security and international relations could be foreseen beforehand. It is only a possibility for the future, Ferguson says, but one he believes will occur: we must be prepared to live with the daily threat of terrorism, with the presence of American soldiers in more and more 'problem' countries, and with a de facto segregation of ethnic and religious communities, not only within US cities.