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What Could Stop Globalization

From the CIA's National Intelligence Council report on the world in 2020:

The process of globalization, powerful as it is, could be substantially slowed or even stopped. Short of a major global conflict, which we regard as improbable, another large-scale development that we believe could stop globalization would be a pandemic. However, other catastrophic developments, such as terrorist attacks, could slow its speed.

Some experts believe it is only a matter of time before a new pandemic appears, such as the 1918–1919 influenza virus that killed an estimated 20 million worldwide. Such a pandemic in megacities of the developing world with poor health-care systems—in Sub-Saharan Africa, China, India, Bangladesh or Pakistan—would be devastating and could spread rapidly throughout the world. Globalization would be endangered if the death toll rose into the millions in several major countries and the spread of the disease put a halt to global travel and trade during an extended period, prompting governments to expend enormous resources on overwhelmed health sectors. On the positive side of the ledger, the response to SARS showed that international surveillance and control mechanisms are becoming more adept at containing diseases, and new developments in biotechnologies hold the promise of continued improvement.

A slow-down could result from a pervasive sense of economic and physical insecurity that led governments to put controls on the flow of capital, goods, people, and technology that stalled economic growth. Such a situation could come about in response to terrorist attacks killing tens or even hundreds of thousands in several US cities or in Europe or to widespread cyber attacks on information technology. Border controls and restrictions on technology exchanges would increase economic transaction costs and hinder innovation and economic growth. Other developments that could stimulate similar restrictive policies include a popular backlash against globalization prompted, perhaps, by white collar rejection of outsourcing in the wealthy countries and/or resistance in poor countries whose peoples saw themselves as victims of globalization.
It seems to me that the only relevant data point we have on this is the Victorian Globalization period that was ended by World War One and the ensuing twenty five year period of devastation. This, I assume, is what leads the NIC to conclude that "a major global conflict" globalization will basically continue, either faster or slower. But when assessing why they "regard as improbable" such a conflict, they prominently cite the growing economic interdependence produced by globalization. This argument was, I believe, prominent in the pre-world war one period, in which authors argued (correctly, as it turns out) that war between the great powers would have disastrous consequences for all and that, therefore (incorrectly) the powers would avoid it. And of course, military conflict between the great powers was unlikely in the early 20th century. it didn't happen in 1900 or 1901 or 1902 or 1903 or 1904 or 1905 or 1906 or 1907 or 1908 or 1909 or 1910 or 1911 or 1912 or 1913. And then one day, well. . . .

So while it certainly is unlikely, I wouldn't be too sure. The confidence we can have in avoiding major great power conflict and continuing the beneficial integration of the world has a great deal to do with the extent to which the world's political leaders understand how bad the consequences of renewed confict would be.

January 31, 2005 | Permalink

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Comments

"So while it certainly is unlikely, I wouldn't be too sure."

The nature of American military hyperpower is what makes it unlikely.

It seems very improbably that anyone will be able to challenge America militarily in the next decade or two.

Posted by: Petey | Jan 31, 2005 3:21:25 PM

Petey --

Or 2011, or 2012 or 2013, or 2014... but then...

Posted by: dbt | Jan 31, 2005 3:25:51 PM

"And of course, military conflict between the great powers was unlikely in the early 20th century. it didn't happen in 1900 or 1901 or 1902 or 1903 or 1904 or 1905 or 1906 or 1907 or 1908 or 1909 or 1910 or 1911 or 1912 or 1913. And then one day, well..."

There were numerous Cuban missile-style near conflicts in the early 20th century. It in that aspect, the current era is very different.

"The confidence we can have in avoiding major great power conflict and continuing the beneficial integration of the world has a great deal to do with the extent to which the world's political leaders understand how bad the consequences of renewed confict would be."

Many (although not all) of the players in 1914 were quite aware that the consequences were going to be horrific. The hair trigger nature of military mobilization demands and shadowy alliances kept things moving forward anyway.

Posted by: Petey | Jan 31, 2005 3:27:24 PM

dbt,

Although forecasting is tricky, I find it difficult to imagine anyone posing a serious military challenge to the US in the next 10 to 20 years. China, obviously, would be the most likely candidate, but:

- They're not ready to do that yet economically
- Once they get there economically, they may not decide that's in their interests.
- Even if they do decide to move in that direction, it'll take a while.

If you want to talk 2024 or 2025 or 2026, then it starts looking more conceivable to me.

Posted by: Petey | Jan 31, 2005 3:31:15 PM

Islam - the NEW Communism. Long live the new nemesis.

Posted by: j swift | Jan 31, 2005 3:36:37 PM

"This argument was, I believe, prominent in the pre-world war one period, in which authors argued (correctly, as it turns out) that war between the great powers would have disastrous consequences for all and that, therefore (incorrectly) the powers would avoid it."

To expand slightly:

What makes 2005 fundamentally different than 1914 is that the battle lines of a possible great power war in 1914 were obvious to all. In 2005, it's difficult to even imagine the nature of a great power war.

And those battle lines of 1914 were apparent to all 10 years earlier. In that respect, 1914 is similar to 1982, but very different from today.

Another analogy to 1914 is the current India/Pakistan standoff. Everyone knows a war would be very, very bad. But a couple of miscalculations could well set it off.

But what miscalculations could set off a great power war today, or even 10 years from now?

Avoiding a war is tricky, even if all sides know that war will be disastrous, when that war is percolating right under the surface. But when no war is percolating, avoiding it is pretty simple.

Posted by: Petey | Jan 31, 2005 3:57:51 PM

What Could Stop Globalization

Don't discount the narrowly tailored, singularly focused efforts of these guys.

Posted by: SoCalJustice | Jan 31, 2005 3:58:20 PM

Norman Angell published a book to great acclaim, called "The Great Illusion" which conclusively proved that major-power warfare was impossible, because the world had grown so interdependent on trade that there was no way anyone would take the economic hit that war would cause (or they'd be dealt with/bought off/allied against by the other powers, if only to protect their stake in the system). It was published in 1913.

Angell is thus the patron saint of too-clever-by-half political science theories. He still managed to cop the 1933 Nobel Peace Prize, somehow.

The period 1901-1913 was actually full of near-misses. Crises, brushfire wars, provocations, emergency conferences, high-level delegations - there were at least four Balkan wars during that time, and Germany tried to start some shit in another country's colonial sphere at least twice. If that Serbian assassin had gotten run down by a horse on his was to kill the Archduke, it seems likely that WWI would have still broken out in 1915 or 1916 or 1917. Provocations to warfare reliably came along once or twice a year - sooner or later, one of them would have blown up into continent-wide conflict. The real wonder of WWI is Europe was able to delay its outbreak for as long as it did.

Posted by: FMguru | Jan 31, 2005 4:01:44 PM

"The period 1901-1913 was actually full of near-misses."

Yup.

In 1904, we could almost perfectly see the battle lines of 10 years hence. Even in 1929 with Germany still demilitarized, we could see a vague outline of the battle lines of 10 years hence.

What would the battle lines of 2015 be?

Posted by: Petey | Jan 31, 2005 4:09:00 PM

>It seems very improbably that anyone will be able to challenge
>America militarily in the next decade or two.

You mean, other than by mounting a small cheap attack which
destroys a substantial part of the Pentagon ?

Actually, I think we are rather seriously at risk and in some
ways the USA's military position is weaker now than at any time
since 1942.

In spite of the fact that the USA spends about as much on its
military as the rest of the world put together (probably even a
little more if you count the Iraq+Afghanistan costs over the last
couple of years), the debacle in Iraq shows that our military is
remarkably ineffective in an unconventional war. We have
fantastic (and fantastically expensive) ability to blow up any
tank, airplane, ship, or building in the world. But against a
small, lightly-armed, stealthy opponent our current force
structure is not much good - too many expensive airplanes and
tanks, not enough grunts (and especially Arabic-speaking grunts)
with M16s, too much satellite imagery, not enough human
intelligence.

Also the arrival of small cheap microcontrollers and GPS systems
could lead to the widespread development of mass-produced
ultra-cheap smart weapons. Once you can build a small cruise
missile for $10K, then it may become possible for a poor country
(or even a non-state terrorist organization) to attack with 50 or
100 cruise missiles simultaneously; or similarly with 50 robotic
car-bombs or boat-bombs. I think our defenses would be swamped
by this kind of attack, and we would suffer substantial casualties
with little cost to the attacker.

So I believe that the military dominance of the USA over the last
20 years is a temporary phenomenon - before that period, nobody
had smart weapons, right now the USA and its allies have a
monopoly on the technology, but soon it will be widespread and
cheap enough for many countries. For example, in the 1991
Gulf War guided bombs were expensive and the USA mostly used
dumb bombs; in 2003 the JDAM was fairly cheap ($20K ?) and most
of the bombs dropped were smart. When that figure reaches $5K
then almost anyone can afford it.

Of course the USA will still have the *best* weapons, and
definitely the most expensive weapons. But if the enemy is
shooting at us with cheap smart weapons that have a 50-60% success
rate, and we're shooting back with 80%-success, the US will
take significant casualties before winning.

Posted by: Richard Cownie | Jan 31, 2005 4:18:03 PM

I think people are erroneously believing that a challenge to US power would be necessary for the next "Great War". The necessary precondition vis-a-vis the US is that the US be unable to take a decisive part in such a war. The present state of affairs shows that is a clear possibility.

Another precondition is the presence of conflicting actors seeking to enhance their power and prestige on the world stage. China and India both fall into this catagory, have a history of conflict, and have economic designs on SE Asia. They both have neighbors who could draw them into unwise conflicts that could spread. Pakistan and N. Korea are both allies of China. While neither China nor India would seek a large scale war, they could be drawn into a large conflict one crisis at a time, raising the stakes.

I don't find it likely that China and India will fight a war in the near future. I am just pointing out that many of the ingredients for a devastating major war are there.

Posted by: Njorl | Jan 31, 2005 4:24:49 PM

FMguru: I have heard that that anecdote about "The Great Illusion" is a myth, and that the thesis of the book is that a great power war would harm all sides, not that it had become impossible.

Posted by: Walt Pohl | Jan 31, 2005 4:24:50 PM

It was probably true in 1914 that nobody wanted the war they got.
Austria-Hungary wanted to fight Russia to keep them from poking
their nose into Serbia. Germany wanted to destroy the British fleet
and grab some colonies, but hadn't built enough ships in 1914.

The disaster arose from the mismatch between the needs of diplomacy,
and the constraints of the latest military technology - which at
that time was mass conscription and railways. It took weeks to
mobilize the army and get it to the front by a carefully pre-planned
movement of trains. So once your opponent started mobilizing, you
had to do the same as soon as possible. And for the Germans, they
couldn't risk sending all the troops to the East, so their only
war plan called for beating France as quickly as possible before
the Russians could attack (whether or not there was any actual
reason to fight France).

Is there any lesson in this for the present ? Keep your military
under strict civilian control, make sure their plans are flexible,
don't start the wrong war by mistake. Not rocket science, but it
doesn't seem we've learnt much in the last 90 years.

Posted by: Richard Cownie | Jan 31, 2005 4:38:02 PM

"I think people are erroneously believing that a challenge to US power would be necessary for the next "Great War" ... I don't find it likely that China and India will fight a war in the near future. I am just pointing out that many of the ingredients for a devastating major war are there."

Sure. If you want to think about an India/Pakistan or India/China conflict, I can certainly imagine it during the next 15 years.

But given the tone of Matt's post, and it's talk of a "great power" conflict, I was thinking about something a bit less regional, and a bit more global.

But point taken anyway. A serious India/Pakistan or India/China conflict would seriously set back globalization in a major, major way.

Posted by: Petey | Jan 31, 2005 4:41:10 PM

Walt: Yeah, that's entirely possible (I've not read the book). I guess Angell made the point that everybody would be worse off in a war, even the putative "winner", and the popular response to the book was to declare "well, I guess there won't be any more wars then! hooray!"

It wouldn't be the first time that the influential pop interpretation of a semi-scholarly book greatly overstated the book's case, as anyone who remembers the late 80s hubbub around Kennedy's "Rise and Fall of The Great Powers" can attest.

Posted by: FMguru | Jan 31, 2005 4:41:58 PM

And of course, military conflict between the great powers was unlikely in the early 20th century. it didn't happen in 1900 or 1901 or 1902 or 1903 or 1904 or 1905 or 1906 or 1907 or 1908 or 1909 or 1910 or 1911 or 1912 or 1913.

Well, other than the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. (I know Russia was, and I thought Japan as well, considered a "Great Power" of the time).

Posted by: cmdicely | Jan 31, 2005 5:43:35 PM

Sure. If you want to think about an India/Pakistan or India/China conflict, I can certainly imagine it during the next 15 years.

But given the tone of Matt's post, and it's talk of a "great power" conflict, I was thinking about something a bit less regional, and a bit more global.

And India/China or India/Pakistan or India/China/Pakistan conflict would have all kinds of possibilities for expansion; its not like the original crisis that triggered WWI had any real direct importance to, say, Britain.

Posted by: cmdicely | Jan 31, 2005 6:08:58 PM

Osama Bin Laden as Gavrilo Princip?

Posted by: praktike | Jan 31, 2005 6:20:22 PM

"Osama Bin Laden as Gavrilo Princip?"

I believe that was Osama's intent, to a certain extent.

Posted by: Petey | Jan 31, 2005 6:30:12 PM

What I always find hard to believe is that the monarchs of Britain and Germany during WWI were FIRST COUSINS! Christmas must have been awkward.

Posted by: digamma | Jan 31, 2005 6:31:24 PM

If we are going to talk about what might stop globalization, the first thing we should do is notice how the current form is very much different than the Victorian style. Yes, at the turn of the twentieth century trade flows were significant as were international bond purchases. But things are radically different now. Production is now wholly globalized, in ways the Victorians could never have dreamed of; and the volume of global capital flows, and the velocity of those flows, is vastly greater than the early twentieth century, when international "finance" actually, and quaintly, financed the movement of "real" goods. Now finance finances itself. And this doesn't even begin to consider the cultural impact of televisons and internets, etc. So, yes some sort of catostrophic event could stop globalization (a meteor?), but we are well beyond the circumstances of poor old Norman Angell

Posted by: Sam | Jan 31, 2005 7:10:49 PM

Isn't oil going to be a huge problem in the next few years? Are we just kidding ourselves?

Posted by: Michael7843853 | Jan 31, 2005 7:50:27 PM

What level of conflict would it take for superpowers to use nuclear weapons in this day and age?

I'm just curious what the prevailing opinion is.

Posted by: Royko | Jan 31, 2005 8:05:23 PM

the battle lines of a possible great power war in 1914 were obvious to all.

My European history teacher asserted that the Germans didn't quite believe that the English would defend the French. Am I and was he wrong about this?

Posted by: Jackmormon | Jan 31, 2005 8:22:45 PM

What I always find hard to believe is that the monarchs of Britain and Germany during WWI were FIRST COUSINS! Christmas must have been awkward.

You bet it was awkward -- not because the Hohenzollerns had to put off the Christmas dinner from 1914-18, but because the House of Windsor was still named Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. The leading Royal prince in the Navy was still named Battenberg. This awkwardness was cleared up by 1917 and the family's been named after the castle ever since. And relations between Kaiser Bill and Czar Nicholas were equally close. The "Willy-Nicky" telegrams just went to prove that cousins can't necessarily stop wars, even if they wear really cool metal hats and are called "emperor."

My European history teacher asserted that the Germans didn't quite believe that the English would defend the French. Am I and was he wrong about this?

Depends on which German you mean. The civilians (and probably the Kaiser) really weren't sure what the Brits might do, but reasonably hoped (remember: hope is not a plan!!) that Britain would stay out. Had they done any actual planning to make sure this would happen? Not so much. Had they planned for the eventuality that they'd be caught wrong? Ah, no, not really.

The General Staff, on the other hand was more certain that the Brits would join the French, but the General Staff didn't care: they knew that the war would be won in the West in twelve weeks, so it didn't matter. In any case, keeping Britain out was the job of the diplomats. "Not my concern," as Schlieffen was supposed to have said.

And that turned out just fine.

Posted by: stickler | Jan 31, 2005 8:56:40 PM

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