The Integrated Economy as A Cause of War

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By Daniel Altman

International Herald Tribune
February 20, 2007

In countries around the world, globalization has been blamed for increasing inequality, extinguishing local culture, enabling transnational crime and a host of other evils - with varying degrees of justification. But could globalization be a cause for another ill wind, that of war itself? To answer "yes" would be to discredit a broad current of 20th century political-economic theory.


Peace, after all, was the original motivation for the economic integration of France, Germany and the rest of continental Europe. And the desire to avoid conflict still encourages countries to build commercial ties, as the United States is now doing, regularly and at the highest levels, with China. Yet "yes" may still be the right answer in many cases. Globalization can be a motivation for war, and it can also add fuel to war's bonfires.

"It is said that when there are economic interdependences between nations, the potential of conflicts is reduced," said Jacques Fontanel, a professor of economics at the Pierre-Mendí┬Ęs- France University in Grenoble, in an e-mailed response to questions.

"In fact," he said, "war depends on religious and economic conditions of people. If globalization gives more and more money to the owners and less and less to the workers, more and more for some nations and less and less (relatively) to others, the occasions of conflict grow: social conflicts and political conflicts." Fontanel said that the rapid growth of economies like the United States, aided by globalization, could also contribute to conflict if demand for raw materials increased faster than supply.

"There is a new scarcity and scarcity is always a cause of conflicts."

The very interconnectedness of the global economy can be another source of rancor, according to Martha Crenshaw, a professor of government at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. "The stronger powers can be held responsible for local grievances," she said. "This is not unlike the era of colonialism." Crenshaw said that terrorists, who often choose economic targets, may be especially motivated by, and aided by, globalization. They take advantage of the mobility of people across borders to deliver their attacks. The attacks themselves, moreover, may be part of a strategy to attract international attention and pull bigger powers - even those with little interest in the given region - into domestic conflicts.

"They are using a strategy of leverage," she explained. "Even if the real target of your action is the local government, in order to get attention for what you want to do, you've got to hit the world scene." For example, rebels in the delta region of Nigeria have kidnapped foreign sailors and workers to gain publicity for disputes that have some longstanding tribal roots.

That's where the integration of markets, including media, becomes important. Events from far-flung corners of the world instantly find their way onto television sets in major metropolises. Fighters and terrorists can easily make their own videos and then post them on the Web or send them to news outlets to dramatize their causes.

"We're down to very, very small levels of democratization," Crenshaw said of the global media. "Everybody can be a star."

World prices for arms remain low, he added, despite the industry's immunity from tariff reductions mandated by the World Trade Organization and the monopolies that producers have in many domestic markets. Someone has to buy all those arms, of course. Attracting funds for war has become an easier and more broadly based process as the international financial architecture has developed. Yet finance and arms are also two of the industries that are most difficult to regulate on a global basis. Instead of dealing with war's handmaidens, it might be easier to confront the deeper causes. The question is, should that be the job of individual states or of international organizations? Even answering such an apparently well- defined question may be more difficult because of globalization.

As John Baylis, a deputy vice chancellor at Swansea University in Wales, writes in a forthcoming, revised edition of the best-selling text "The Globalization of World Politics," the conception of statehood and security are changing along with globalization. Citizens' expectations of what their governments should provide, and governments' abilities to meet those expectations, may be diverging. As Baylis writes, globalization could be generating a new class of wars that separate cosmopolitan citizens of the world from those left out by economic and social integration.

As Fontanel and Crenshaw suggested, people who are unable to exploit globalization's opportunities may harbor resentment, which manifests itself in violence, against those who can. But it could also be creating a global community that needs to unite in order to police and resolve conflicts in a more cooperative fashion.


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