Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Can Free Trade End War?

(Part 2 of a 3-part series)

Probably since the first cavemen crawled out of their burrows to exchange firewood for leopard skins, trading relationships have led to strife and war (credit). Prof. Antony Anghie’s work traces the birth of international law—at least in part—to the need to regulate these relationships. And my own recent scholarship focuses on the Berlin Conference of 1884, an attempt by European powers to avert a trade-related war by “peaceably” carving up the African continent into trade zones. Thus, war and trade have always been linked, but the civilizing influence of time was said to have moved us away from the raw grab for power and riches so prevalent in earlier centuries. Trade would now be a source of peace rather than strife (so claims Thomas Friedman in his Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention— “No two countries that both have a McDonald’s have ever fought a war against each other”). In my last post, I asked whether that was possible: Can free trade end war? Prof. Colin Picker’s article, Trade and Security: Empiricism, Change, Emotion & Relevancy suggests not. Picker maintains the “new flavors” of armed conflict are such that trade policy will have little influence on them. In post-Cold War conflicts, he argues, economic factors are not the source of the conflict so much as ethnic or religious tensions. Given that reality, trade policy is a poor substitute for a more robust peace policy, and trade officials are poorly equipped to handle the problem in any case.
While I would agree that in many (if not most) conflicts, trade policy standing alone is not enough to achieve a lasting peace, I also suggest that it is often the first step. Whether internally or externally generated, war is a failure of diplomacy that necessarily leads to a breakdown in linkages between the warring parties. Trade is a way of re-establishing some ties, which hopefully prove too lucrative to dissolve permanently. Friedman claims, for example, that while the war in Kosovo was a refutation of his Golden Arches theory, it was the exception that proved the rule:
Belgrade is a modern city integrated with Western Europe, with a population that wants to be part of today's main global trends . . . Once NATO turned out the lights in Belgrade, and shut down the power grids and the economy, Belgrade's citizens demanded an end to the war. It's that simple. Not only did NATO soldiers not want to die for Kosovo -- neither did the Serbs of Belgrade.
They wanted to be part of the world, more than they wanted Kosovo to be part of them. They wanted McDonald's re-opened, much more than they wanted Kosovo re-occupied.

A few years ago, I read Thomas Barnett’s, The Pentagon’s New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century and was struck by his charge that modern instabilities in the world order stem almost exclusively from those countries left out of the “functioning core” of globalization. Rather than de-linking trade policy from modern wars, trade policy should be more conscious of the nexus between trade and peace. If we fail to bring the prosperity trade engenders to every corner of the globe, then we risk having those neglected and long-forgotten castaways visit us in our own backyards. In my next post, I want to explore the question of how might we organize trade policy to address some modern conflicts.

1 comment:

Srikar said...

Is there a part 3 of this series ?