The Globalization Paradox

I’ve been pretty deep in the weeds of WPR’s weeklong series on France’s strategic posture review (part one here, part two here), so I was looking forward today to seeing what’s going on in other parts of the world. As I joked to Hampton yesterday, I’m looking at international news and seeing French strategic posture. So what’s the first thing I thought of this morning when I saw this Indian Express article (via Indian Economy Blog) on the Indian government’s austerity plan? You got it. French strategic posture.

How so? Well, as IEB underlines, Indian defense spending is among the few items exempted from the government’s five percent cost-cutting program (along with salaraies, pensions and debt payment). Which brought to mind France’s determination to maintain its global ambitions despite its budgetary constraints. Which in turn brought to mind Russia flying long-range strategic bomber patrols over the North Pole, while its gasfield infrastructure is by all accounts in need of massive reinvestment. And China pouring money into its military buildup while throwing up ‘tofu’ schoolbuildings in quake zones. And America, which will someday soon account for half of all global defense spending, but whose infrastructure could use some spring cleaning.

Now this isn’t a “Pentagon bakesale” pacifist rant. It’s just an attempt to call attention to the gap between the military capacity needed to address the “era of persistent conflict” foreseen by virtually all of the world’s strategic planners, and the fiscal means available to do so. The problem is exacerbated by both the nature and location of the potential conflicts. You don’t need a PhD in military science to realize that an untrained militia fighter laying boobytraps within walking distance from his home costs significantly less than an armored combat brigade with air support deployed thousands of miles from its border. The newfound fascination with COIN tactics has not only seduced us from the question of whether or not we can actually defeat insurgencies, but blinded us to the question of whether or not we can afford to.

Oddly enough, this farflung interventionist urge reveals something of a globalization paradox. The globalized economy was supposed to render conflict less likely, but the interconnectivity of interests it has spawned is now being used as an imperative for intervening in geographically distant locations in the name of stability. There are two possibilities. The first is that we continue to break the bank trying to fund a military capacity that is not only unaffordable but also uncertain to accomplish our strategic goals. The second would suggest a second globalization paradox, namely that in an age of global interconnectivity, stability becomes a local responsibility. The challenge at that point would be to balance globalized commerce with regional spheres of security, but I think the nature of the equation would make it in everyone’s common interest to serve as an honest broker.

I’ve mentioned William Irwin Thompson before, and I’m reminded here of an observation he made about how societal institutions and social processes in their mature form often function in opposition to their initial goals. Globalization is really a very immature phase of a process that will in all likelihood solidify into a global system that bears little resemblance to what we’re witnessing today. My hunch is that what essentially began as a global deregulation project will increasingly turn into a system of global regulation (of norms) and local enforcement (of security).

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