GLOBALIZATION AND WAR:DOUG MACDONALDDr. Doug Macdonald is Associate Professor of Political Science at Colgate University and author of Adventures in Chaos: American Intervention for Reform in the Third World and is an expert on American Defense and Terrorism policies, particularly as they relate to Asia. Professor Macdonald has held a number of distinguished positions including Director of the International Relations Program at Colgate University and Senior Research Fellow at The Nobel Institute in Oslo, Norway
.Globalization and War
by Doug Macdonald
I am going to concentrate my remarks on the question of Globalization and terrorism, as that is the main means of conflict that seems to have emerged since the end of the Cold War, and the acceleration of trends that had been developing for decades that we now call Globalization.
Let me begin with a working definition. Globalization has been defined in various ways, but to me it is the spread of neoliberal economic and political reforms, the diffusion of new technologies of information, especially the internet, the lowering of barriers to trade through the WTO and other international institutions, and the internationalization of capital. Taken together, this sweeping tide of change is both exhilarating and, to the vulnerable, frightening.
The reason that these changes are unsettling in Third World countries is that they disrupt old patterns of behavior and it is almost impossible, as in remote areas in the past, to avoid their effects. It is not a coincidence that many Islamist terrorists, not all, are from rural areas, or are newly arrived to urban life. These urban cultural challenges to established value systems can lead to violence, and lead minority groups in some countries to rebel. Globalization in this regard is not seen as an increase in opportunities or the hope of a better future, but as a destructive force that is destroying traditional ways of life. Joseph Schumpeter’s “creative destruction” inherent in industrialization is not appreciated everywhere, as a concept or as a process.
Some of these movements are ironically partly the result of democratization, the expressed desire for which has been spreading around the world. Neoliberal political reforms decentralize power in the political realm and weaken the authority of already weak states. In the area of the world I am most interested in, Southeast Asia, in the newly democratic countries of the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand, there is a tremendous distrust of the military and other security forces because of the recent dictatorships that has hampered the war on terror in those countries. It is also worth noting that these three countries have the most troublesome terrorist problems in the region. Countries that have sufficient economic “safety nets” and relatively strong states, such as Singapore and Malaysia, have relatively slight terror problems.
Let me illustrate with an example of how Globalization-driven reforms can have the unintended consequence of creating violent conflict. In Thailand several years ago, the government decided to push through educational reforms, specifically increasing the number of years of schooling mandated by the state from six to nine years. This was done for two primary reasons. First, the change was meant to help reduce the educational and economic disparities between rural and urban areas, the former being far behind in development. Second, it was decided that if Thailand was to become more competitive in the global marketplace, it would need better educated citizens. Their models for reform appear to have been earlier programs along these lines by Singapore and Malaysia.
A good, progressive, modernizing neoliberal reform, right? The problem was that in the heavily Muslim areas along the Malaysian border, the population – that speaks a different language, and is ethnically Malay and overwhelmingly Muslim - resented the Thai-Buddhist nationalist-secularist curriculum. When the government began closing religious schools in those areas that preached separatism, in January, 2004 tensions spilled over into violence. Since January, 2004 over 1,000 people have been killed. Twenty-seven percent of the attacks have been on educational institutions. The insurgency, perhaps the worst in the region, has no chance of overthrowing the government – Muslims are only 4% of the population. But it is causing numbers of deaths, widespread Buddhist flight from the affected areas, and consuming an inordinate amount of government time and resources. All because of a reform that by neoliberal, secularist standards was both helpful and just.
This is not an invitation to throw away Globalization, even if we could. But it may never lead to the better world it promises if those of us that support it have to shoot our way into dominance. We should not make Marx’s mistake when he saw the disruptive effects of early industrialization in Europe as capitalism’s death throes rather than its birth pangs. But we need to design these changes in more sensible and intelligent ways, and realize that we have a selling job to do, even at the lowest levels of the socio-economic totem pole. Perhaps most there. If we charge ahead with a “bottom line,”macro-economic standard only, we can expect more conflict and terroristic wars. We may have to face the fact that neoliberal decentralization in the form of democracy may be the best long term strategy, but can have disruptive and even catastrophic effects in the short run. I see no easy solution to the problem, but it deserves more attention than it is getting, especially from economists.