Thursday, November 10, 2005

From 2000 to 2004, Mr. Josh Manchester was on active duty in the US Marine Corps, deploying to Egypt, Kuwait, and Iraq. A combat engineer officer, he participated in battalion, group, and occasionally Marine Expeditionary Force-level planning for the invasion of Iraq. He also served for a short period as an intelligence officer, finding, sorting, and analyzing various intelligence products. Manchester has a wide familiarity with Marine Corps history and doctrine: division, regimental, and battalion-level operations, combat engineering, command and control, and logistics. He is a graduate of The Basic School and Marine Corps Engineer School, and received a BA with honors from Duke University. Manchester's blog, the lively and stimulating The Adventures of Chester covers a wide range of foreign policy and military-related issues.

Globalization and War

by Josh Manchester

In the 1990s, the world awakened to a post-Communist order, one in which global capital was largely unfettered to come and go as it pleased. Soon it became apparent that not just capital, but people, ideas, goods, services, and every manner of human transaction, physical or otherwise, was enabled by technology and the fall of the USSR to spread as never before. This entire phenomenon came to be known through the shorthand term of "globalization."

Western academia had several assumptions in its analysis of the globalization phenomenon. Taken together these closely-held tenets, nearly sacred in ivory towers, might be called the "normal" theory of globalization. Many of these assumptions are now very clearly wrong and they are worth exploring:

1. Globalization will inevitably lead to Westernization. It's rather ironic that so many leftist academics espoused this theory, since it manages to embrace a sort of assumed Western superiority while at the same time turning the rest of the world's cultures into victims. Or maybe, Westernization would result because we in the West are so aggressive? No matter. The assumption is false. If there is any lesson to be learned these days from globalization's effects on people and cultures, it is that it transmits all of them, and transforms all of them. There is an process of give-and-take at play in nearly every place -- whether physically or in cyberspace, or other media -- where two or more cultures and peoples collide. In this way, we find radicalized Muslims as easily in Munich as we do in Mecca, and democrats as easily in Kabul as in Kansas. Moreover, the very cultures that were thought soon to be washed away by the onrush of global capitalism find themselves just as easily transmitted by it as those of the West. Witness the border region of the US and Mexico, which is a teeming hybrid of both Western and Latin cultures, or examine the growing influence of Chinese and Japanese pop culture upon the rest of Asia and even the United States. Western -- and American -- culture have influenced each of these others in turn, but by no means can be described as ascendant, and even less and less so, as dominant.

2. Globalization leads to homogenization. A famous and well-regarded 1996 work was entitled Jihad vs. McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism Are Reshaping the World. Each of the visions it describes as competing for dominance in the world can only be considered homogenous: jihad and tribalism on the one hand, and global capitalism on the other. But the nearly 10 years since have revealed the actual fragmentation of both of these tendencies. All sorts of large-scale institutions, which Barber lumps into "global capitalism" are disintegrating, or decentralizing. And tribalism serves many people in many different ways. Polities are now to be found in diasporas all over the world, and are much less likely to fall upon traditional fault lines as they are to splinter into dozens of interest groups. From the consumer marketplace to geographic identity, political parties, racial identification, and even ideologies, heterogeneity is the order of the day.

3. Globalization will lead to a decline in state power. This is one of the most frequent assumptions in all of the lexicon of the political scientists who study globalization, and is taken for granted so regularly as to be a maxim of the field. But while there is certainly no dearth of failed states, successful states are just as plentiful. Moreover, state power, while sometimes bested by new challenges, does not seem to be withering away. Consider the many faces of state power that are not about to crumble: intelligence collection; military expenditure and operations; the setting of monetary policy and interest rates; the collection and disbursement of revenue; the creation and enforcement of regulations. States are surely challenged by globalization, and many may succumb to it, but its effects cannot be described as a frontal assault, and the demise of states is far from a foregone conclusion.

If the old touchstones of globalization analysis are looking pretty worn for the wearing, where does that leave us? I propose two new tenets of globalization that recent history seems to uphold:

1. Globalization subverts hierarchies. Indeed, it is not state power that is waning, it is state power expressed in the form of bureaucracy. Globalization speeds the pace of life, of events, of the spread of ideas, of the necessity for decisionmaking. Sclerotic state bureaucracies -- and any other bureaucracies for that matter, corporate or otherwise -- can only keep up for so long. Here is where the purported loss of state power may be visible; for while organizations that are flexible and adaptable have no problem adjusting to the speed of current decision cycles, those that require reams of forms filled out in triplicate, several layers of command between action and decision, and administration by committee are the ones most likely to be found mired in scandal, backlogs, and ultimately, irrelevancy.

The very medium through which I deliver this message is one of the more prominent examples. A pulsing, living, breathing conscious thing called the internet, but which is actually the online mind of a large proportion of humanity, is constantly seeking new information, devouring it, processing it, transmitting it, analyzing it, storing it, and so on in iterations ad infinitum. Compared to traditional means of performing those same functions, it is blisteringly fast. Moreover, it has little imposed order within its organization. What hierarchy may exist is highly decentralized and spontaneously generated ex machina. There is no top-down organization and drawing a wire-diagram of even the smallest portion of it would soon prove frustrating. The relationship to subversion of hierarchies is not hard to comprehend. One of the earliest texts on the implications of the internet, the cluetrain manifesto declared that "hyperlinks subvert hierarchy." In the intervening years, this has proved true. And so on to the next point:

2. Globalization leads to a decentralization of all aspects of human existence. Whereas cranks like the Unabomber once worried that the forces of history were turning human beings into "mere cogs in the social machine," now we know better. The "machine" is decentralizing, and is no longer singular, having made itself into a networked entity, not a singly hierarchy. And the results for human choice have been, and will continue to be, nearly unimaginable. Humans are not cogs in a machine -- they are more and more free radicals in a large interconnected organism. Certainly we are connected to others in many more ways, and in some cases new ways, than we once were, but at the same time our freedom of activity has not been circumscribed -- in most cases it has been enhanced dramatically. In the United States for example, a country that was recently declared to be a Free Agent Nation, is now developing a do-it-yourself economy, such that, for example, anyone with the time and inclination to do so can use services such as eMachineShop, and draw on a worldwide manufacturing and supply network. Such trends are expected to increase dramatically.

What does all this mean for the future of warfare? Several things: while violent conflict may be localized, if there are fundamental ideas underlying that conflict (as opposed to, say, local resource scarcity), the ideas will not be localized in the slightest. Walling off any one part of the world in the hopes that it will not impede upon the rest will prove useless.

Moreover, if decentralization is the order of the day, then the states that allow their functions to be decentralized will probably retain more power than those that continue to try to control their tasks via rigid hierarchies.

Finally, networked global actors, whether states, non-state groups, religious organizations, criminal enterprises, or basically any other formal or informal group of people, will continue to be dramatically more nimble than their hierarchical counterparts and competitors.

In many areas of warfare, theorists are attempting to understand and work within the ethic of decentralization. Philip Bobbitt in The Shield of Achilles, creates the concept of the market-state. Though he does not express it in the terms of hierarchy and decentralization used here, the goal of the market-state is to perform the functions of the state through decentralized and networked means -- markets, whether via privatization or other sorts of proto-markets. Some examples he offers are security warranties through which one state might offer a sort of guarantee to aid another that is more akin to an insurance policy than an alliance. Bobbitt also mentions programs such as "lease-hire security insurance, licensing some forms of defense technology and emphasizing the U.S. role in providing information, missile defense, and even intervention for hire."

Whereas Bobbitt is a strategist by training, David Ronfeldt and John Arquilla study networks and networked forms of warfare at the tactical and operational levels. In works like Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime, and Militancy and Swarming and the Future of Conflict they discuss the advantages and disadvantages of networked forms of organizations and their preferred tactic, swarming. One development that seems to be influenced by the RAND researchers is the Marine Corps' experiments with a form of networked ground warfare called USMC Distributed Operations, which is about
enabling the ground elements to conduct successful NCW [network-centric warfare] against an adaptive, asymmetric enemy.

It is important to remember that no new programs develop from scratch. The US military's officer and NCO corps will have to undergo a variety of changes if distributed operations or other networked forms of battle organization and doctrine are to be adopted. Those systems, that of officers in particular, rest upon ancient ideas of aristocracy and noblesse oblige. Can the US military perform what might seem to be a subversion of this storied hierarchy?

It should be noted that whether it can or not, many private organizations may be able to do so with ease. The growing private military industry is as capable as any state of creating and provisioning the types of security markets that Bobbitt envisions and the types of decentralized tactical units that are foreseen by Arquilla and Ronfeldt. If the US military, or other state militaries prove too hierarchical to adapt to the decentralized, globalized world in which we live, other actors now waiting in the wings, many of them private, will rise to fill the void.

Such a vision of the future of warfare seems dark and mysterious, one in which the Leviathan of the state could easily break down. Perhaps. But a future in which anyone can publish anything might have once seemed frightening, just as a future in which anyone could worship as they pleased still does to many. There is just enough reason to believe that the future decentralized security market, both private and public, will serve its ultimate citizens – or consumers – just as efficiently as other new markets serve us today.
Some feedback. More detail is provided in this Chester post.

The argument seems to be that nobody wants war; and only connectivity via globalisation will prevent war. Agreeing rule-sets for globalisation, that can be enforced, is then a key problem. The UN system, especially the International Monetary Fund (and the ECB?), is making some progress on financial rule-sets but not on international auditing.
Furthermore, this recent paper from the Washington based Institute for International Economics shows that the members of the IMF are preventing global rule-sets.

It starts:
"The world needs a strong and effective IMF as the principal multilateral institution responsible for international economic and financial stability. A consensus on the role of the Fund and the scope of its activities in the 21st century is needed to achieve this objective. However, such a consensus does not exist today in official circles or among private observers. Consequently the IMF, once the preeminent institution of multilateral international financial cooperation, faces an identity crisis."

Thank you for the post. If I may add two comments

1. Westernization doesn't have to mean "pop Westernization." Algeria and India faced their strongest Westernization under the FLN and INC. The competitive horizontal environment of globalization evolves things into a Global mold, though the details are not preordained.

However, while this cultural hegemony does make things "Western," other genetic factors conspire to make things "human." The greatest force for traditional cultures, for example, has always been the birthrate. No matter which culture is setting the pace, reality has a vote, too.

2. I don't think you explained how globalization will not reduce state power. Saying "successful states are... plentiful" and that there are "faces of state power that are not about to crumble" is like telling an amputee "there are successful amputees -- and think of how many limbs you have left!"
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