June 6, 2004

More on the New Map...

Phil Fraering posted this comment on my post about The Pentagon's New Map, by Thomas P. M. Barnett.

I have not read the book, but I find some of the author's reported conclusions to be unlikely; the major threats of the twentieth century came from modernized, "core" nations: Japan, Germany, (and to a lesser extent) Russia.

Also, many of the 9/11 hijackers were from the more "connected," educated, and wealthy parts of their societies. Take Mohammed Atta, for example; he had a degree in urban planning from a German college.

The modern world still provides as fertile soil for the true-believer fanatic as it ever did; if it didn't, Berkeley would look a lot different.

It wasn't modernization that changed things, but globalization. The first blooming of globalization was squelched in the 1930's by economic nationalism, by the high tariffs thrown up to protect against the Depression. If the developed nations had lowered tariffs after 1929, the Stock Market Crash probably would have been just another business cycle, and Naziism would have fizzled out. Russia was cut off from the flows that globalization brings until the 1990's.

The big by-product of our involvement in the world during the Cold War was to allow globalization to happen. In fact that's probably the real story. First Europe and Japan, then a variety of other nations grew strong economically because we shouldered most of the defense burden. (It was our best investment ever. No need to thank us; globalization is really America's Operating System adopted by the world, and we profit the most out of it.)

Think of what happens today when a country gets into a financial crisis. Remember Mexico in 1994? A large part of a country's wealth can evaporate in HOURS as traders around the world dump their stocks and bonds. (And the money can flow back to a place like Mexico just as fast. Make reforms and you get instant gratification. Very educational.) Any threat of war would be much worse. Or imagine a US vs Mexico war. A huge chunk of "our" industry is across the border. A big portion of "their" population lives here. Because of NAFTA, Mexican trucks roll freely on our highways. We are entangled with them. And either country would be economically crippled if its ports were mined or airports shut down. Or communications lines were cut or satellite access blocked.

War would be ridiculous. But more important to our current situation, a terrorist movement (or a war-mongering nationalist movement) in Mexico will never grow big enough to really threaten us, because it would be squelched as soon as the threat to Mexico's wealth and trade became obvious. Most Mexicans are now well aware of how important trade and stability are to their hopes of buying a new car or wide-screen TV. Same goes for Berkeley. There are lots of wackos there, but they trek to gourmet natural foods restaurants, not to terrorist training camps. And they probably have jobs in the next-door capitalist haven of Emeryville. Any slow-down in the world's economy would be felt painfully in Berkeley too.

Almost all our military interventions during the 1990's were in places with a per-capita income less than $3,000. That seems to be a threshold. Above there the crazy violence mostly stops. (But it needs to be real wealth—not just having a lot of oil.) Mohammed Atta was "modernized," but the Arab region is not. They still have monarchies! Ludicrous. The desire of wealthy Saudis to fund terrorists was never counterbalanced by cabinet ministers worried about foreign investment drying up if there was a climate of disorder. Developed countries worry intensely about their bond ratings, and if those are threatened, action is taken. Corrupt left-leaning sleaze-ball demagogues are tossed out in favor of reformers who promise a favorable business climate. (Think Schwarzenegger!)

Phil, read the book! Then tell me if I'm on the wrong track.

Posted by John Weidner at June 6, 2004 8:51 AM
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