GLOBALIZATION AND WAR: SAM CRANEDr. George T. " Sam" Crane is Professor of Political Science at Williams College, where he is the Chair of the Asian Studies Department and- quite appropriately - is teaching a course on war and globalization. The author of Aidan's Way: The Story of a Boy's Life and a Father's Journey and numerous articles on international relations, Professor Crane is also the respected and discerning blogger at The Useless Tree, a blog devoted to world affairs examined through the prism of classical Chinese philosophy .Globalization and Conflict in East Asiaby Sam Crane
I go back and forth on this question: has globalization had more of a positive effect or more of a negative effect on war over the past thirty years or so? Globalization has obviously contributed to the reduction in interstate war among advanced industrial countries, especially in Europe; but it has also spawned nationalist backlashes in various places and has engendered new forms of networked threats. The news seems generally good when one looks at the numbers of combat deaths reported in the new Human Security Report (which might need to have a post of its own), but then there is China.
China has obviously benefited from globalization and the extraordinary economic growth there has certainly allowed it to modernize its military. The potential threat of that improving military is offset to some degree by its intensifying interconnections with global institutions and its interdependence on foreign trade and investment. It is, in many ways, a status quo power. But globalization has also contributed to the strengthening of a new popular nationalism that resents slights by the US and other powers, and takes an especially hard line against Japan. The overall effect has been to raise the possibility of conflict in East Asia.
The problem is both general and particular. In general, China’s rise has contributed to Japanese fears (North Korea has also worried the Japanese), pushing Tokyo further down the road to constitutional revision that will allow it to have a “real” military
and pressing it into a closer military relationship with the US, especially on the Taiwan issue
. China, of course, notices these changes and does not like what it sees
By themselves, these general trends might not be too dangerous; they could be offset by a strategic calculation in both Beijing and Tokyo that going to war is just too costly. But there is a more specific issue that could spark direct conflict: oil.
China’s globalization-driven economic growth has increased the demand for oil world-wide, and made petroleum diplomacy a priority for Beijing. Tokyo also worries about supplies. Add to this the specific territorial disputes between China and Japan in the East China Sea, an area said to have petroleum reserves, and we have the makings of a tense standoff
So, globalization, in this case, may be increasing the possibility of interstate war. Thirty years ago the likelihood of a conflict between China and Japan was infinitesimal. Mao had buried the hatchet with Tokyo in 1972, when he dropped a demand for war indemnities in return for Japanese recognition of the PRC. No Chinese dared to get out on the streets and protest against past war crimes. And in Japan then there was something of a “China fever” as business interests eyed the seemingly endless opportunities. Fast forward to today and the ruling party in Japan has identified China as its most significant strategic threat and China is sending warships into the East China Sea to ward Japan off its oil exploration
. And this change has happened as globalization has deepened in both places.
General theories that suggest globalization reduces the likelihood of interstate war are fairly persuasive. The problem comes when we dig more deeply into specific relationships. The China-Japan relationship is worsening. The reason why no shooting has broken out yet may have more to do with old-fashioned balance of power dynamics (which are not set in stone and could tip out of balance under the right circumstances) and less with globalization.