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The Washington Quarterly 25.1 (2002) 7-14

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Globalization's First War?

Kurt M. Campbell

In the immediate aftermath of the devastating terrorist assault on the U.S. homeland, President George W. Bush told U.S. citizens that the country faced "the first war of the twenty-first century." A few days later, Vice President Dick Cheney vowed that the coming conflict would be "global in scope." Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld indicated that the international campaign would be waged on many fronts--from military strikes, better intelligence, and stronger banking regulations to more effective international cooperation in policing against terrorists. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice made a clear distinction between Islam and "the terrorists who distort its peaceful message." Perhaps more significant than Bush's statement but less well understood: the first war of the twenty-first century is also the first major war in the age of globalization.

Just as the Persian Gulf War came to be known as the "CNN war" because of cable television viewers' newly acquired capability to assess bomb damage, the United States is on the verge of conducting a "globalized war" under dramatically new international conditions. Just as the Gulf War was not against CNN, this war is not against globalization. Yet just as CNN changed the way the Gulf War was fought, globalization will change the way this war will be fought. Individuals can now use Internet sites and cable stations to assess the war's effects on diversified financial portfolios 24 hours a day across the world's many stock markets and currency trading desks. Globalization has created complex interdependence. The market tremors that the terrorist attacks first set off, and that protracted military action subsequently amplified, have rapidly reverberated along the circuits that globalization produced. [End Page 7]

Some commentators have suggested that the terrorists conceived the attacks as a direct assault on the forces of globalization, but this notion does not withstand scrutiny. The United States was the clear target of these attacks, even if the "root causes" of such terrorism are a source of considerable debate. On display is not globalization under siege, but rather the clash between modernization and tradition. Debates within Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria, Pakistan, and Iran center only in the most trivial way on Western "contamination," such as by pop music and video games, of their cultures. The struggles within these societies concern economic inequalities, who should wield power, and the complex relationship between political and religious authorities. To view the events of September 11 primarily through the prism of globalization and its discontents is not particularly enlightening. Rather, the reverse poses a very relevant line of inquiry indeed: how will September 11 and, more importantly, the subsequent campaign in retaliation against the perpetrators of these attacks impact the course of globalization?

Much has been written about how the forces of globalization--the unremitting expansion of market forces, the breakneck speed with which capital moves around the globe, and the constant search for realizing greater economic efficiencies--influences everything from indigenous cultures and environmental regulations to labor standards and patterns of productivity. Yet remarkably little attention has been given to globalization's potential impact on global conflict, and vice versa. Perhaps we have unintentionally subscribed to the persistent optimism of the prophets of globalization who either inferred or explicitly stated that conditions of globalization made a major, sustained conflict most unlikely. The terrorist attacks, however, have altered those comfortably held assumptions. We have come to understand globalization as an inexorable economic force, comparable to an inescapable approaching wave that alters everything in its path. If this portrayal is true, what will happen when the logic of globalization collides with the consuming passions of a global conflict? Is the relentless march of market liberalization and global optimism over? Can continuing globalization and a lengthy and expensive campaign against global terrorism coexist?

The Terror Attacks and the Damage Done

Before considering the potential implications for globalization of the ongoing military campaign against international terrorism, first appreciating the impact on, and the damage done, to the U.S. economy from the September...


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