GLOBALIZATION AND WAR: SIMON WORLDSimon is the Hong Kong based, anonymous proprietor of the highly regarded and enormously popular Simon World blog. Simon's timely postings, steady output and incisive, crisp, commentary on Asian and world affairs have won him many devoted readers in an ever more competitive blogosphere.
Globalization and war by Simon
The upcoming WTO conference in Hong Kong has everyone on edge. Hong Kong’s security forces are preparing for the inevitable anti-trade protests. The governments’ participating are inching towards an agreement, but it is by no means certain. Hong Kong’s government frets it will play host to a giant farce, with nothing agreed and everyone’s time wasted. Yet the WTO represents one of the greatest economic achievements of the modern era: trade liberalization. And Hong Kong embodies the free trade spirit better than almost any place on Earth.
Can an economically integrated and trading world go to war? It certainly managed to in 1914. China’s ongoing stirring of nationalism, especially against the Japanese and Taiwan, serves a political purpose that is at odds with the economic benefits trade and investment between these places. On the other hand, China has become in the naughties what Japan was in the eighties to America – the trade and economic bogey-man. There are plenty on both sides of that fence that can envisage war between two of the world’s biggest trading partners. It might not be good for Wal-Mart but a confrontation over Taiwan is a possibility.
And yet globalization could well act as a mitigating circumstance. Will China’s rulers, for all their bluster, squander the value of their massive holdings of US government debt, the massive benefits that export-led growth has brought to China’s economy? Certainly one consequence of globalization is it has made war more costly. Not just first order costs, but broader economic costs as well. Upping the costs and reducing the benfits of going to war makes globalization a force for moderation and peace.
But wait, there’s more. The flipside of this is the globalization of war and especially the global market for military weapons and technology. Pakistan made a business of exporting nuclear technology. It is widely thought China has exported military technology to unsavory regimes, and North Korea is famous for its missile exports. So in that regard globalization has become a force for war.
There’s more again. China’s opening up to the world through globalization has seen it create a vigorous appetite for commodities and energy. With its leadership primarily focused on economic growth at almost any cost, combined with a “flexible” ideology and foreign policy, has meant China has formed alliances and invested in far flung corners of the world that are inherently unstable or alien to liberal democracies. There are examples from the Middle East, Central Europe and Africa that all fit into this category. Whereas it could be argued that America’s foreign policy is not solely or even primarily driven by economic concerns, China’s is and that leads to allies you wouldn’t want to take home to your Mum. Chalk it up as another minus for globalization.
But I’m not here to finish on a pessimistic note. I am a firm believer in free trade and globalization for both its economic benefits, especially to the poor, and as a driver of a more peaceful and safer world. The globalization of culture is often characterized as the “Disneyfication” (or McDonaldisation, or Hollywodisation, whichever American cultural icon you choose) of the world and is derided as a “bad thing”. But these companies and groups provide products that are popular with consumers the world over. No-one is forced to visit Disneyland, or eat a Big Mac, or watch a movie. But people want to. Moreover America remains the favoured destination for immigrants and would-be immigrants the world over, including in China. The American dream is a global one. This success sometimes drives envy, but America’s prosperity is widely admired. The foundations of that success? Liberal capitalist democracy. If globalization can bring images and ideas of liberal capitalist democracy to those who live without it, it can only serve to drive people to aspire to such a society. America’s model is not the only one. But it is the biggest and most successful (and note that I’m an Australian). As people grow richer in countries like China, they will start demanding more secure property rights, rule of law, less tolerance of corruption, more say in how they are governed. Globalization makes countries richer while at the same time constantly exposing populations to the most successful economic and political model the world has devised.
As globalization brings economic growth, it will bring political growth. Countries that are economically successful and growing do not, as a rule, go to war. In a world where there are numerous flashpoints and delicate balances to be maintained, globalization is a key force pushing towards peace. It is that complicated. And that simple.