• Welcome to all New Sikh Philosophy Network Forums!
    Explore Sikh Sikhi Sikhism...
    Sign up Log in

World The New Rules: Strategic Balancing Vs. Global Development

Jan 6, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
18 April 2011

The New Rules: Strategic Balancing vs. Global Development

Thomas P.M. Barnett - 18 Apr 2011

The World Bank's 2011 World Development Report is out, and this year's version highlights the interplay between "conflict, security, and development." That's a welcome theme to someone who's spent the last decade describing how globalization's spreading connectivity and rules have rendered certain regions stable, while their absence has condemned others to perpetual strife. But although the growing international awareness of these crosscutting issues is long overdue, the report ultimately disappoints by focusing only on the available tools with which great powers might collaborate on these stubborn problems, while ignoring the motivations that prevent them from doing so.

First, the good news: Civil wars have decreased dramatically in frequency from the temporary spurt unleashed by the collapse of the Soviet empire at the end of the 1980s. That means we are back in the 1970s range of three-dozen or so situations of chronic civil conflict, out of a global roster of almost 200 states, with 90 percent of the affected states having suffered similar strife in their recent past.

This is an important development. During the great wave of colonial independence movements in the 1960s, most civil wars occurred in countries that hadn't experienced conflict recently. The current situation reflects the fact that globalization has effectively spread to about three-quarters of the world, with only "bad neighborhoods" -- albeit comprising about a billion-and-a-half inhabitants -- still on the outside.

Still, even in those bad neighborhoods, which I collectively labeled the "non-integrated gap" a decade ago, death from civil wars is down dramatically. In their worst spikes across the 1960-1990 timeframe, yearly global death totals ranged from 150,000 to 250,000 deaths; in the 1990s, the same totals hovered around 100,000. But since America unleashed its war on terror following Sept. 11, those totals have counterintuitively dropped to levels in the 50,000 range. That's amazing considering the world contains more than twice as many people compared to the 1960s, but this is what America's globalization "empire" has wrought.

That alleged "empire" consists of spreading rules and institutions, as well as America's willingness to enforce them. The beneficial outcome is economic connectivity yielding trade and investment flows that ultimately trigger individual income growth. As the report makes abundantly clear, "lower GDP per capita is robustly associated with both large-scale political conflict and high rates of homicide."

So in the end, this is all about jobs, a reality made equally clear by the unfolding "Facebook Revolutions" in the Arab world. And yes, jobs determine who joins the violent "opposition" in these bad neighborhoods: When polled, the lack of jobs is the No. 1 reason cited by individuals -- roughly 4 in 10 -- as their primary motivation for joining rebel movements as well as criminal and terrorist gangs. By way of contrast, belief in "the cause" animates about 1 in 10. So much for the "clash of civilizations."

These chronic sources of civil violence naturally render a nation less attractive to the global economy. Companies and investors stay away because the cost of doing business is simply too high. As a result, poverty is exacerbated, and what connectivity does result is often tilted toward the negative sort: smuggling of everything from people to drugs, arms and counterfeit goods.

The result in terms of impoverishment is unsurprising. Developing economies that have not recently experienced great violence average about 40 percent of their population living in poverty. Those that have recently experienced some level of violence average a 50 percent poverty rate. And those with a lot of recent violence average more than 60 percent.

The solution, as the report argues, is likewise no mystery: strengthen "institutions," which the authors define as "the formal and informal 'rules of the game'" within any society. Good rules that are adequately enforced yield the "citizen security, justice and jobs [that are] crucial to break cycles of violence." Success requires a generation of effort, as trade levels after major violence typically need two decades to recover.

The implied sequencing here is telling: immediate security for citizens; a sense of future security in the form of functioning justice; and enough faith in that future to choose jobs over violence as a means of providing for oneself and one's family. If that personal narrative seems unachievable, the opportunity cost for violent behavior -- whether rebellion, crime or terrorism -- is sufficiently lowered that chronic civil strife ensues. Again, these are not "irrational" people choosing nihilism for no reason.

That's what will drive war and peace in the 21st century in a nutshell: The vast majority of violence in the international system lies within regions that are poorly connected to the global economy. Those regions continue to generate the chronic civil strife that attracts the poorly coordinated interventions of great powers, none of which have militaries optimized for that purpose and thus are wary of long-term involvement -- "mission creep" leading to "quagmire." Instead, their preference is to build up local militaries for this purpose, but such aid isn't nearly enough. It may buy the immediate security, but it doesn't secure the justice or the jobs. And jobs are the only exit strategy. Unless the longer-term nation-building effort is made, the post-conflict country, often now infused with new weaponry thanks to military aid, lapses back into renewed civil war and the cycle is cruelly extended.

The World Bank report argues that we need an "international system 'refitted' to address 21st-century risks." Our problem, it notes, is that the current global system was set up to prevent state-on-state war, not chronic civil strife. Now, at this point, the World Bank could have made some bold arguments about why that is, but instead it chose to numb the reader with long laundry lists of tools to rectify the situation. This information is ably delivered and very welcome.

But it ignores the fact that great powers prefer to remain, with their militaries, stuck in the 20th century, preferring to hedge against each other rather than deal with the chronic issues cited in the World Bank report. And they deeply fear getting involved in any of these "quagmires," because if they do, like America did across the last decade, then they risk having their "big war" militaries reduced to a "small wars" focus -- thereby leaving them vulnerable to fellow great powers and their militaries! Call it near-peer pressure.

Why do the great powers maintain this collective obsession with each other? Not all do. Europe has basically opted out, and Asia's advanced economies would readily too, if it weren't for "rising" China. America can't go down this path because of China, nor can China for the converse reason. China's regional rival India gets sucked into this thinking as well, as does Russia, even if only in a residual sense. Do we honestly expect great power war among any of them? Not so long as mutually assured destruction, a strategic reality that has held for six-plus decades and counting, reigns supreme in the form of nuclear {censored}nals.

Still, judging by how these nations' national security establishments speak, each recognizes that the "21st-century risks" cited in the World Bank report are the ones most threatening to their own long-term economic health and political stability. Nonetheless, they simply choose to ignore that messy reality, preferring the neat symmetry of balancing against one another for wars that will never unfold. This is intellectually defended as "realism."

China is a perfect example: in truth, it is not building any serious global power-projection capability -- no replenishment ships and no overseas bases -- to protect its ever-expanding trade and supply networks. Instead, it is stockpiling missiles, submarines and attack aircraft useful only for taking on a fellow great power. The Pentagon's new AirSea Battle Concept promises to return the favor. Meanwhile, all the suffering cited in the World Bank report will be allowed to continue, not because the challenge is too great or beyond our collective resources, but because we prefer not to address them.

The path ahead is simple enough: dismantle the strategic mistrust between the United States and China. Make that happen and everything else will follow. Leave it be, and nothing proposed in this report will ever take place. Instead, we'll read virtually the same report, word for word, a decade from now.

Thomas P.M. Barnett is chief analyst at Wikistrat and a contributing editor for Esquire magazine. His latest book is "Great Powers: America and the World After Bush" (2009). His weekly WPR column, The New Rules, appears every Monday. Reach him and his blog at thomaspmbarnett.com.

📌 For all latest updates, follow the Official Sikh Philosophy Network Whatsapp Channel: