The military threat to globalization

The military threat to globalization

Globalization and free trade are in political trouble worldwide because so many people have no clue about how globalization works and how it generates wealth.

That's a conclusion I drew recently when I read about the visit of former President George H.W. Bush to a leadership conference in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates. Although the crowd there reportedly expressed gratitude for the elder Bush's role in driving Iraqi troops from nearby Kuwait in 1991, several participants expressed anger against his son, President George W. Bush, for launching the current war in Iraq.

One college student expressed the common belief that U.S. wars are aimed at opening markets for U.S. companies, and "globalization was contrived for America's benefit at the expense of the rest of the world," as the Associated Press phrased it. That viewpoint strikes me as palpable nonsense for several reasons.

For starters, the enormous energy reserves of Abu Dhabi and other energy-rich nations were discovered, developed and distributed by multinational companies. Rather than reside in huge villas, shop in glitzy boutiques and travel regularly to Europe, the people of Abu Dhabi would have been mired in poverty if it weren't for the global oil industry. Amazingly, too many fail to understand that globalization isn't just about Wal-Mart and McDonald's or other consumer products. It affects everything.

Second, it makes no sense to equate globalization with the interests of U.S. companies. Too many people conveniently overlook the fact that countless global companies are based and funded in Asia, Europe and Latin America. Actually, small and midsize companies in those continents are more likely to be engaged in global activities than their counterparts in the U.S., which has such a huge domestic market.

Third, history shows that the greatest benefits from globalization are derived from peaceful interaction, not war. If war were the surest route to conquering foreign markets, the U.S. would have sent the Marines into Mexico, not created NAFTA. War as a means to wealth has long ago been discarded as barbaric and counterproductive. Multinational companies thrive on peace and predictability, not on the violence and chaos created by war.

The surest way to transform countries into functioning democracies is to bring them peacefully into the global economy, not attack with tanks or bombs. This strategy has worked repeatedly in eastern Europe, Asia and elsewhere. U.S. political and military leaders may have understood this fully, but felt that this approach involved too many risks for U.S. security.

Whatever you think of the Iraq war, its unfortunate political fallout could further poison the waters for globalization at a time when the ignorant are all too eager to draw the wrong conclusions from it.

Alan M. Field is associate editor at The Journal of Commerce. He can be contacted at (610) 296-1233, or at afield@joc.com.