Saturday, June 17, 2006

Globalization: The Forces Behind the Revolution

is often thought of as a recent change but it has been a process which has ebbed and flowed over time depending upon world events. The “shrinking world” syndrome which began following the collapse of the Soviet Union has continued to gain speed and strength as trade barriers continue to fall and technology facilities the easing of communication, information exchange, and travel. The advent of the internet has only speed up the process of globalization by creating a virtual world where people of any class, nation, and language can communicate, trade, and exchange information. While these amazing changes have contributed to the all encompassing force of globalization, the modern world has experienced this revolution before.

Prior to modernity’s greatest tragedy (World War One), advances in technology, political stability amongst the Great Powers, and development of new markets created a period of pronounced globalization. The colonial empires of the various European powers, and the Bismarkian political order enabled the economic and political powers of the time to trade in relative safety. Great Britain provided secure sea lanes for maritime trade, the United States had completed the Panama Canal, and a series of alliances and treaties created the greatest post-Treaty of Westphalia . The advances in the telegraph, mass- manufacturing, automobile, airplane, steam ship, and electricity fueled this previous wave of globalization much like our societal advances of today. Additionally, the free-flow of peoples from developed nations to their colonial possessions introduced modern features to otherwise tribal societies, leading to flash-points of conflict as modern collided with pre-modern.

It was not until the rule of Kaiser Wilhelm II and his forced retirement of Prince Otto Von Bismark in 1890, coupled with the Kaiser’s Dreadnought building plan and subsequent arms race with Great Britain did the political order become to deteriorate. The other contributing factors of a weakening Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires furthered the slow deconstruction of the post-Crimean War peace. With the collapse of political security and stability, economic and ethnic rivalries became uncontrollable, and the fundamentally flawed system of alliances escalated into the First World War. This conflict erased sixty years of globalization and it was not until the late 1980s did international trade reach pre-World War One levels.

Today’s globalization is fueled and maintained by the same forces. Instead of Great Britain, the United States shoulders the burden of maintaining a global order that enables the free flow of goods and information. Our unrivaled military and political power has prevented other nation-states from attempting to upset this fragile structure. Since and the recognition of Islamist terrorism and rogue states as being the two major threats to global security and free trade, the United States has attempted to contain, destroy, and reduce these threats much like Great Britain and Europe did with the ethnic rivalries and terrorism of the 19th century. Also, like the pre-WWI era of globalization, the super-power enforced political order risks being destroyed as weapons technologies spread to rival state actors (Dreadnoughts-Germany, Nuclear technology-).

In the early 1990s, the collapse of the Cold War world order doubled the size of the global consumer base over night while the expansion of free trade agreements (EU, NAFTA, ASEAN) created open markets and massive opportunities. The recent development and penetration of the Chinese and Indian markets has added another two billion consumers to the global economy while leading to an explosion of wealth and investment opportunities for the global community much like the colonies and the German/Japanese market development of the late 19th century did.

Technological advances in communications, information exchange, banking, travel, computers, software tools, and robotics have all fueled the explosion in human productivity and resulting economic expansion. As markets and opportunities have expanded, the willingness of companies to invest in R&D, and ultimately bring to the market more effective and imaginative products has continued to sustain this globalization-generating force. This has manifested itself in the recent advances in mobile technology and on-demand content. This relationship of technology and free-market forces contributing to further advancements mirrors earlier eras of globalization were steam engine and electricity advances led to transportation and manufacturing improvements.

The political and economic parameters necessary to produce globalization do not happen by chance. History has shown that it is only when there is political stability and open markets are the forces of globalization unleashed. Like the early 20th century, today we are faced with state and non-state actors who threaten to destroy the political and economic conditions which enable globalization. Containing and eliminating these threats should be a global priority rather than being shouldered by the United States. While the world may not enjoy living in the shadow of the American Colossus, without it the opportunities and economic vitality of the marketplace will collapse and with it, this recent era of globalization.


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