The G-20 Summit as Globalization’s Not-So-Safe Haven

There’s been a thought-provoking discussion of the centrality of Pakistani — or other — safe havens to al-Qaida’s operational capacity. Andrew Exum kicked things off here, Spencer Ackerman added some thoughts here, and Matthew Yglesias has some comments of his own here. The upshot is that safe havens are neither necessary nor sufficient to launch a terrorist attack, that it’s unrealistic to expect we can eliminate them because there will always be unstable corners of the world, and that focusing on physical space risks overlooking the role played by virtual space (i.e. the internet) in terrorist networks.

Juxtapose that to the G-20 summit in London and the protests that greeted it. Global governance in many ways operates in the same kind of virtual space that Exum attributes to transnational terrorism: While there are fixed physical anchors — i.e. the U.N., for instance, or individual nations’ executive offices, parliament buildings, etc. — they are diffuse and in many ways highly symbolic representations of power dynamics that function almost independently.

These summits have become the most concrete physical incarnation of that governance system. So not surprisingly they draw physical manifestations of the grievances of globalization’s discontents. In order to maintain their credibility, the summits must be held in “not-so-safe havens” that are accessible and subsequently secured for the purpose of making sure they are not disrupted.

There’s some sort of fascinating parallel to be drawn here, but for now all I can come up with is the stark contrast between a transnational movement that exists primarily in virtual space and only materializes in the outlying shadow areas beyond the global governance system, and the system itself, which exists primarily in virtual space and only materializes in the walled-off centers of global capitals.

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