Debate: States of Discord
The worldviews of Thomas Friedman and Robert Kaplan are about as different as a modem and a bayonet. No surprise, then, that these two influential commentators diverged sharply over the future of the nation-state at a recent debate in Washington, D.C. Will globalization ultimately strengthen or destroy the state? Will it lead to more democracies or more revolutions? And does transnational terrorism signal the end -- or the triumph -- of global integration? Pick your champion and pull up a chair.
By Thomas Friedman
By Thomas Friedman
What is globalization? The short answer is that globalization is the integration of everything with everything else. A more complete definition is that globalization is the integration of markets, finance, and technology in a way that shrinks the world from a size medium to a size small. Globalization enables each of us, wherever we live, to reach around the world farther, faster, deeper, and cheaper than ever before and at the same time allows the world to reach into each of us farther, faster, deeper, and cheaper than ever before.
I believe this process is almost entirely driven by technology. There’s a concept in strategic theory — the sort of things Bob Kaplan has written about — stating that capabilities create intentions. In other words, if you give people B-52s, they will find ways to use them. This concept is quite useful when thinking about globalization, too. If I have a cell phone that can call around the world at zero marginal cost to 180 different countries, I will indeed call around the world to 180 different countries. If I have Internet access and can do business online, a business in which my suppliers, customers, and competitors are all global, then I will be global, too. And I will be global whether there is a World Trade Organization agreement or not.
Since September 11, 2001, many people have asked me if terrorism will stop the process of globalization. I had often wondered about this sort of situation: What would happen if we did reach a crisis moment, a crisis like terrorism, or a major financial crisis, and things started to go in reverse? People would say, "Bring back the walls!" But I knew that was going to be a particularly defining moment for us, because that’s when we were all going to wake up and finally realize that technology had destroyed the walls already — that the September 11 terrorists made their reservations on Travelocity.com.
Bad News Is Next
By Robert Kaplan
Let me try to give a slightly richer definition of globalization. The best historical metaphor I can come up with is China in the third century B.C., when the Han overlordship replaced the period of the warring states (following the short interlude of the Qin dynasty). Think of it: You had this massive mainland China, thousands of miles across, with little states constantly coalescing into bigger states over the centuries. And then, for a long period, you had six or so major states fighting each other. Finally, they were unified by a series of balance-of-power agreements, by an embryonic bureaucracy developing in all of them, and by the Chinese language. What the Han dynasty represented was not a single state; it was a serious reduction of conflict among the warring states, so that the highest morality was the morality of order, with everyone giving up a share of their independence for the sake of greater order. I’m not talking about some sort of "world government" over China. It was just a loose form of governance, where everything affected or constrained everything else.
Today, too, everything affects everything else — we’re affected by disease pandemics in Africa, by madrassas (seminaries) in Pakistan — but there is still nothing like a global leviathan or a centralizing force. The world is coming together, but the international bureaucracy atop it is so infantile and underdeveloped that it cannot cope with growing instability.
And more complexity does lead to more instability. Today, we have several factors driving this relationship. First, we are seeing youth bulges in many of the most unstable countries. Big deal if the world population is aging; that doesn’t interest me for the next five or ten years. I care about the many countries or areas like the West Bank, Gaza, Nigeria, Zambia, and Kenya where over the next 20 years the population of young, unemployed males between the ages of 14 and 29 is going to grow. And as we all know from television, one thing that unites political unrest everywhere is that it’s carried out by young males. Another factor is resource scarcity — the amount of potable water available throughout the Middle East, for instance, is going to decrease substantially over the next 25 years. When you put them together, these driving forces lead to sideswipes, such as the September 11 attacks. Another sideswipe could be an environmental event like an earthquake in an intensely settled area, like Egypt or China, that could lead to the removal of a strategic regime.
In The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Tom wrote that globalization doesn’t end geopolitics. That’s the key. Globalization is not necessarily good news; it’s just the news. And the news could get scarier and scarier, because more interconnections will lead to complexity before they’ll lead to stability.
State of Progress
Thomas Friedman responds.
Bob brought up the role of the state and of governance; these are absolutely crucial issues. Some people believe that the state will wither away and matter less in an era of globalization. I believe exactly the opposite: The state matters much more in a globalized world.
Why? Well, the first thing we have to understand about globalization is that, oddly enough, it’s not global. It affects different regions in different ways, and it links different countries in different ways. Yet every part of the world is directly or indirectly being globalized in some way. In this context, the state matters more, not less. If I could just use one image to describe the state — including political institutions, courts, oversight agencies, the entire system of governance — I would say it’s like a plug, and it’s the plug that your country uses to connect with globalization.
If that plug is corroded, corrupted, or the wires aren’t connected, the flow between you and that global system — what I call the "electronic herd" — is going to be very distorted, and you are going to feel the effects of that distortion. But if the plug works well, the flow between you and the global system will be much more enriching.
The dirty little secret about globalization — and it takes a lot of countries a long time to figure it out — is that the way to succeed in globalization is to focus on the fundamentals. It’s not about the wires or about bandwidth or about modems. It’s about reading, writing, and arithmetic. It’s about churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques. It’s about rule of law, good governance, institution building, free press, and a process of democratization. If you get these fundamentals right, then the wires will find you, and the wires will basically work. But if you get them wrong, nothing will save you.
Consider Botswana and Zimbabwe. Both countries have problems, but Botswana was probably in the top 20 percent of countries last year in per capita income growth. Zimbabwe was, I dare say, certainly in the bottom 20 percent. These two countries are right next to each other. Botswana has its problems, to be sure; it’s not some ideal paradise. But it has decent democratization, decent institutions left over by the British, decent free press, and decent oversight and regulatory bodies.
And Zimbabwe? Zimbabwe has President Robert Mugabe. Now, if you told me right now that in five years I’ll be able to get a fair trial in Zimbabwe, I’d say that Zimbabwe is going to be fine. But if you tell me I won’t get a fair trial in Zimbabwe in five years, then it doesn’t matter if everyone in Zimbabwe has an Internet address, a personal computer, a Palm Pilot, and a cell phone. If the institutions through which these people have to operate to generate growth and interact with the global system are corrupted and corroded, then all the gadgetry in the world won’t make a dime’s worth of difference.
Or just compare Egypt and the East Asian countries. They started out with about the same per capita income in 1953, but now there’s a huge disparity between them. People who have studied these parts of the world point to two fundamental differences: One is the value placed on education. The other is how leaders justify their rule.
In Asia, which had autocratic regimes for several decades, leaders tended to justify their rule with a simple trade-off: Give me your democracy and I will give you prosperity. And people gave up many democratic rights and they got prosperity. The more prosperous they became, the more the relationship between them and the regime changed, until ultimately, you had a tip-over point, and these became democratic countries in almost every case. But what happened in Egypt? The leader said, don’t judge me on whether I brought you a better standard of living; judge me on how I confronted the British, how I confronted the Americans, and how I confronted the Israelis. Give me your rights, and I’ll give you the Arab-Israeli conflict. That was a bad trade. As a result, we see a huge gap between the two.
That’s why with globalization, leadership matters more, not less. If you have the calcified Brezhnevite management that Egypt has, then it’s no wonder that the Cairo skyline has barely changed in 50 years. But if your management "gets it" — as a corporation or a country — then you’ll benefit from globalization.
State of War
Robert Kaplan responds.
I agree that good things are going to happen in a more global world (and humanists will duly celebrate them), but foreign policy crises are about what goes wrong. In the short run, I’m pessimistic. Remember that poverty does not lead to revolutions — development does. The revolutions in Mexico and France were preceded by years of dramatic and dynamic economic development, as well as urbanization and population movements. And what have we seen for the last 10 years, which Tom has described so well in his columns? Incredible dynamism, with middle classes emerging in China, Indonesia, and Brazil. But this development will not automatically lead to West German–style democracies. They may eventually, but for the next 20 or 30 years, they will experience more and more turbulence.
Of course, part of the trouble with some states is that they are states in name only. North Africa exemplifies this problem. In North Africa, you have three age-old civilization clusters: Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco. They all have their problems, but all three are far healthier as states than, say, Algeria or Libya. Why is that? Why did Algeria and Libya get so radical and suffer through civil wars? Because they were never states to begin with. Tunisia has been a state since Roman times. There’s a state mentality there, even without democracy. Citizens argue about the budget and about education. The leader does not have to be oppressive, because a state community already exists. But Algeria and Libya are geographic expressions that were not cobbled together as states until relatively recently. The only institutionalizing force there is radical ideology.
Certainly, you could argue that Africa is in a class by itself. But consider the European Union. Despite its fits and starts, if you look at the European Union emerging out of a coal and steel consortium in the early 1950s, which included France, Germany, the Benelux countries, and Italy, and then expanded to England, etc., you see a gradual superstructure growing. At the same time, however, localism emerges. You see Catalonia and the German länder (states) reasserting themselves. And yet, I must ask, who today would fight for Belgium? Who would fight for Germany? So, on balance, I think the state is weakening in Europe. But if the European community develops into a vapid, insipid bureaucratic despotism that only excites the upper-middle classes and the Brussels Eurocrats, there will be a backlash. That’s why you have retrograde nationalist backlashes.
But here’s where Tom is right: States make war. And they make war because they have political accountability to people who are stuck in geographic space and because they must defend their citizenry and are therefore willing to take big risks on military strikes. The United Nations would never do that. To have the guts to make war, you have to have your own citizenry on your back; you must be physically responsible for them. I believe that, in the next 10 years or so, major wars will be very state-driven.
Let Them Eat Pizza
Thomas Friedman responds.
Bob mentioned the divides in Europe between local and national and regional identities. That discussion raises a larger question: Will globalization turn out to be simply Americanization? Some people believe globalization will homogenize us only on the surface. Japanese kids may wear jeans and my own kids may eat sushi. But underneath those jeans, those kids may still remain completely Japanese, while my kids are in reality still just hot dog–loving American teenagers. Others argue that globalization is going to homogenize us to our very roots, in which case I would agree that it really will become culturally lethal.
But I think that is an unanswerable question right now. Early 20th-century U.S. novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote that you can’t go home again. With globalization, I worry whether we won’t be able to leave home again, that everywhere will start to look like everywhere else. There are two ways to make people homeless: One is to take away their home, and the other is to make their home look like everybody else’s home. Yet I take some succor from the fact that the most popular food in the world today is not the Big Mac, but pizza. And what is pizza? It’s a flat piece of bread that every society has, on which every society and every community throws its own local ingredients and culture. In India, you can get tandoori pizza; in Japan, you can get sushi pizza; and in Mexico, you can get salsa pizza.
In the same way, my hope for the Internet is that it will become an instrument for sharing cultures, not for spreading some kind of American cultural dominance to the world. And while I have great sympathy for people who fear the latter outcome, I think it’s really still an open question as to which will prevail. For example, people have proclaimed the death of regionalism in America for a long time. But I tell you, when I go back to my home state of Minnesota, I speak Minnesotan. I slip right back in there. Anyone who thinks that there’s no place like home anymore, and there’s no Minnesota, has really never come from a region with a strong identity.
Say Your Prayers
Robert Kaplan responds.
I’d like to take a more specific angle on the question of culture and values. One of the biggest elements of globalization has been urbanization. Fifty years ago, the Middle East was rural; cities like Tunis, Casablanca, and Damascus had 200,000 or 300,000 or 400,000 people. Karachi, for instance, had 400,000 people in 1947. Today, Karachi has 9 million inhabitants. Even Tunis has 2 million.
And there has been a value change as well, with a more stark, more abstract, more ideological form of Islam emerging to cope with urbanization. When people lived in villages, religion was part and parcel of the daily routine of life; it wasn’t conscious. In the hill villages of Afghanistan, women did not wear veils, because virtually every man they saw was a relative of some kind. But when they migrated into cities, suddenly they were among strangers, so the veil came on.
When they migrated into pseudo-Western cities such as Cairo, they were suddenly confronted with anonymity. Do you know what is amazing about cities like Cairo, Damascus, and Tunis? Yes, they’re poor: Services are horrible, street lights don’t work, and the police forces are fairly useless. Yet crime is actually quite low. Except for the odd pickpocket, who’s in an area where tourists tend to go, it’s perfectly safe to walk around with a lot of cash in your wallet.
How could that be? How can you minimize petty, random crime despite the kind of urbanization that sent crime through the roof in New York City in the mid-19th century, when Walt Whitman was writing about it? The answer: intensification of religion. Indeed, any time in history when there was tremendous economic change — with dynamism, development, and disruption — religion adapted. For a more contemporary example, just look at the megachurches in the midwestern United States. Sure, East Coast sophisticates laugh at them, but that is a classic form of adaptation to economic change. And in the Middle East, what we call fundamentalism was just a Darwinian way of coping with urbanization. Unfortunately, it also provided a fertile petri dish for the emergence of disease germs like terrorists.
Bikinis in a Nudist Colony
Thomas Friedman responds.
I’m a bit more optimistic than Bob when thinking about the impact of globalization on personal freedoms and democracy. Consider China. I’ve been visiting China for the last 15 years. And every time I go, it’s a more open place, with more personal freedoms, more rule of law, and more people empowered to challenge the government. And I don’t know where it ends or where the tip-over point is. All I know is that this transformation in China is largely due to the forces of globalization.
Of course, we also saw the forces of globalization on September 11, 2001. Again, globalization goes both ways. It can threaten democracies as well as strengthen them. But on net, I do believe that with the right leadership, globalization will be a force for more openness, more rule of law, and more opportunities for people to enjoy personal freedoms and challenge authorities.
My own view is that China is on the verge of experiencing the biggest leveraged buyout in history. The business community has now been invited into the Communist Party — I was there when that happened. Think about that: Capitalists in the Communist Party!
I can deal with a lot of contradictions in my life, but wearing bikinis in a nudist colony or serving steak at a vegetarian restaurant strikes me as no longer manageable. The presence of capitalists in the Communist Party represents a very deep change; it tells us that the system is really moving somewhere else. I believe that over time we will basically see the business community — the capitalist side of China — buying out the Communist Party.
Freedom From Language
Robert Kaplan responds.
Well, Tom, I think there are a lot of unnecessary arguments about democracy and globalization, because we have become trapped by language. Unfortunately, we’ve defined democracy as the holding of parliamentary elections now or in six months. This definition is simply wrong. At the end of World War I, the novelist Joseph Conrad sent a letter to a friend in which he wrote that we don’t really fight for elections or "democracy" but for openness and freedom and human rights — in whatever form they may take in any particular country. I think that’s the right way to look at it.
Countries that already have sizable middle classes and decent political institutions may be ripe for the icing on the cake: democratic elections. We’ve seen that in Taiwan and South Korea, and in the southern cone of Latin America, despite Argentina’s troubles. But there are other places where holding elections too soon could lead to the opposite result.
For instance, Tunisia has increased the size of its middle class from 6 percent to roughly 50 percent of the population. Tunisia has one of the most open societies in the Arab world, with cybercafes everywhere — yet it has all been done through benign despotism. Had they held elections eight or so years ago, I believe there would be less freedom today. Similarly, Egypt is in a terrible situation, but if you demanded elections there tomorrow, there is a good likelihood that more oppression and a worse human rights situation could result. So what we have to do on this question of democracy is look at each individual country and place as it comes.
Robert D. Kaplan is the author of 20 books, most recently Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age. He holds the Robert Strausz-Hupé chair in geopolitics at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.
More from Foreign Policy
Can Russia Get Used to Being China’s Little Brother?
The power dynamic between Beijing and Moscow has switched dramatically.
Xi and Putin Have the Most Consequential Undeclared Alliance in the World
It’s become more important than Washington’s official alliances today.
It’s a New Great Game. Again.
Across Central Asia, Russia’s brand is tainted by Ukraine, China’s got challenges, and Washington senses another opening.
Iraqi Kurdistan’s House of Cards Is Collapsing
The region once seemed a bright spot in the disorder unleashed by U.S. regime change. Today, things look bleak.