Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has been trying to come up with an operating theory of the world — and, a military strategy to accompany it. Now there’s a leading contender. It involves identifying the problem parts of the world and aggressively shrinking them. Since September 11, 2001, the author, a professor of warfare analysis, has been advising the Office of the Secretary of Defense and giving this briefing continually at the Pentagon and in the intelligence community. Now he gives it to you.
When the United States finally goes to war again in the Persian Gulf, it will not constitute a settling of old scores, or just an enforced disarmament of illegal weapons, or a distraction in the War on Terror. Our next war in the Gulf will mark a historical tipping point — the moment when Washington takes real ownership of strategic security in the age of globalization.
That is why the public debate about this war has been so important: It forces Americans to come to terms with I believe is the new security paradigm that shapes this age, namely, Disconnectedness defines danger. Saddam Hussein’s outlaw regime is dangerously disconnected from the globalizing world, from its rule sets, its norms, and all the ties that bind countries together in mutually assured dependence.
The problem with most discussion of globalization is that too many experts treat it as a binary outcome: Either it is great and sweeping the planet, or it is horrid and failing humanity everywhere. Neither view really works, because globalization as a historical process is simply too big and too complex for such summary judgments. Instead, this new world must be defined by where globalization has truly taken root and where it has not.
Show me where globalization is thick with network connectivity, financial transactions, liberal media flows, and collective security, and I will show you regions featuring stable governments, rising standards of living, and more deaths by suicide than murder. These parts of the world I call the Functioning Core, or Core. But show me where globalization is thinning or just plain absent, and I will show you regions plagued by politically repressive regimes, widespread poverty and disease, routine mass murder, and—most important—the chronic conflicts that incubate the next generation of global terrorists. These parts of the world I call the Non-Integrating Gap, or Gap.
Globalization’s “ozone hole” may have been out of sight and out of mind prior to September 11, 2001, but it has been hard to miss ever since. And measuring the reach of globalization is not an academic exercise to an eighteen-year-old marine sinking tent poles on its far side. So where do we schedule the U.S. military’s next round of away games? The pattern that has emerged since the end of the cold war suggests a simple answer: in the Gap.
The reason I support going to war in Iraq is not simply that Saddam is a cutthroat Stalinist willing to kill anyone to stay in power, nor because that regime has clearly supported terrorist networks over the years. The real reason I support a war like this is that the resulting long-term military commitment will finally force America to deal with the entire Gap as a strategic threat environment.
FOR MOST COUNTRIES, accommodating the emerging global rule set of democracy, transparency, and free trade is no mean feat, which is something most Americans find hard to understand. We tend to forget just how hard it has been to keep the United States together all these years, harmonizing our own, competing internal rule sets along the way — through a Civil War, a Great Depression, and the long struggles for racial and sexual equality that continue to this day. As far as most states are concerned, we are quite unrealistic in our expectation that they should adapt themselves quickly to globalization’s very American-looking rule set.
But you have to be careful with that Darwinian pessimism, because it is a short jump from apologizing for globalization-as-forced-Americanization to insinuating—along racial or civilization lines—that “those people will simply never be like us.” Just ten years ago, most experts were willing to write off poor Russia, declaring Slavs, in effect, genetically unfit for democracy and capitalism. Similar arguments resonated in most China-bashing during the 1990’s, and you hear them today in the debates about the feasibility of imposing democracy on a post-Saddam Iraq—a sort of Muslims-are-from-Mars argument.
So how do we distinguish between who is really making it in globalization’s Core and who remains trapped in the Gap? And how permanent is this dividing line?
Understanding that the line between the Core and Gap is constantly shifting, let me suggest that the direction of change is more critical than the degree. So, yes, Beijing is still ruled by a “Communist Party” whose ideological formula is 30 percent Marxist-Leninist and 70 percent Sopranos, but China just signed on to the World Trade Organization, and over the long run, that is far more important in securing the country’s permanent Core status. Why? Because it forces China to harmonize its internal rule set with that of globalization—banking, tariffs, copyright protection, environmental standards. Of course, working to adjust your internal rule sets to globalization’s evolving rule set offers no guarantee of success. As Argentina and Brazil have recently found out, following the rules (in Argentina’s case, sort of following) does not mean you are panic-proof, or bubble-proof, or even recession-proof. Trying to adapt to globalization does not mean bad things will never happen to you. Nor does it mean all your poor will immediately morph into stable middle class. It just means your standard of living gets better over time.
In sum, it is always possible to fall off this bandwagon called globalization. And when you do, bloodshed will follow. If you are lucky, so will American troops.
brian patrick cork