Among all the talk of the benefits and detriments of globalization and how the world is becoming more interconnected, one specific issue has recently caught my attention. In several discussions, I have come across people who are against further globalization because moving manufacturing production to other countries makes the United States vulnerable in the case of war. This argument, in my opinion, is ridiculous for many reasons. Not only does the trend of moving production to other countries decentralize the supply chain of goods making the production line overall safer, but globalization in general makes countries more interconnected and has an effect of reducing conflict around the world. In fact, with the world as connected as it is now, there most likely will not be another major global war in the 21st century.
The main reason that globalization is making the world less combative and reducing conflicts is that it makes countries more interconnected, especially through trade links. Now the decentralized method of production and lower transportation costs all around the world means that a single good can have components that were produced in several countries around the world. A cell phone could have parts that were made in China, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, and India. Additionally, new markets are opening up constantly making international companies embedded in more and more areas of the world. Because of this entanglement of companies and lines of production, all countries are becoming more interdependent for their economies, and countries are establishing more direct and indirect trade links all the time.
If two countries go to war in today’s world, they are risking major disruptions in their economies as links between those two countries are severed and they become less attractive to investment by foreign companies. For instance, Colombia and Venezuela have been going through a major diplomatic row for the past decade as Hugo Chavez has expressed support for the FARC rebels in southeastern Colombia. Some people speculate that the two countries could possibly go to war with each other in the next few years. However, that is extremely unlikely. Venezuela relies on profits from its oil exports to keep the country afloat economically, and going to war with Colombia would jeopardize not just the physical oil extraction facilities, but also Venezuela’s export markets as countries cut off their oil imports from the now destabilized region. This case is repeated throughout the world.
Now, the usual argument against this assertion that I have heard is to bring up the Belle Epoque just prior to World War One. The 19th century was the first era of globalization. Railroads, steamships, and canals increased the feasability for transporting goods and people all over the globe and spurred the industrial development of two continents. Advancements like the telegraph and telephone allowed instant communication between long distances for the first time in history. Along with these similarities, the late 19th century saw an extremely low number of conflicts between the major global powers. Between the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 and the beginning of World War One, the only major wars were the Russo-Turkish War of 1878, the Spanish-American War, and the Russo-Japanese War. All these wars happened on the peripheries of the great powers and were rather small affairs.
And yet, some argue, despite this first era of globalization and the unprecedented contact that the world had with each other that supposedly leads to less conflicts, this system completely collapsed in the 1910s and led to the breakout of World War One. However, most people who assert this are ignoring many of the important differents between the pre-WWI era and modern times. While the telephone and railroads did make it much easier to communicate across vast distances, only a few people really had ready and continuous access to these technologies. Now, television and the Internet has allowed over a billion people around the world to have instant communication with others around the world and get instant news updates on every country rather than waiting for the weekly or daily newspapers.
We also now have the United Nations and other international institutions in which countries can voice their concerns and solve probelms diplomatically and peacefully. While a form of this was present in the 19th century in the Concert system after the Congress of Vienna, it was not a permanent institution and quickly broke down as the web of alliances in Europe drew all of the great powers into war from the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum to Serbia, which can be considered a very minor provocation. The United Nations and its associated institutions now leads a permanent forum for world leaders and diplomats to discuss the current issues around the world and make agreements on trade and other issues without resorting to war.
Additionally, they are forgetting the vast changes to foreign policy and diplomacy that had arisen from the advent of nuclear weapons. With nukes has come the idea of mutually assured destruction as a major aversion for the modern great powers to go to war with each other. Because conventional wars did not have such a high and immediate cost of life and economic capacity, countries could afford to pursue brinksmanship as a viable foreign policy strategy. When you bring nuclear weapons into play, the threat of a nuclear attack or intervention from a nuclear power is always on the back of a leader’s mind when conducting dangerous and aggresive foreign policy. ICBMs also remove national borders from play and bring the power reach of a country with a large nuclear arsenal such as the United States and China to every country in the world.
With this in mind, I am very confident that we will not see another major global war between world powers for at least another half century. Even with the current rumblings on the Korean Peninsula, I do not think it will escalate into global war. China and the United States have too much to lose from a military confrontation, especially if one side decides to use its nuclear arsenal and provokes a retaliatory strike. If there does end up being a war between North and South Korea, I do not foresee China getting involved if the United States intervenes. China would risk losing the jobs in all the manufacturing that United States companies currently have over there. China would also endanger its currency with such a move, as the value of the renminbi was only recently depegged from the US dollar and it is still one of the most undervalued currencies in the world. China would simply lose too much from getting involved with a US intervention in North Korea. Because of this, the mutual relations between the larger powers in the world are going to prevent a global war for a long time.