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Globalization and Security

February 16, 2009


Although this is a corporate blog, security is one of the topics about which I frequently write. The reason I do so is not because I lay claim to be a security expert but, as a businessman, I understand that a good business environment is also a stable and secure environment. My Development-in-a-Box™ discussions always make the connection between security, stability, and prosperity. Most of the time, I leave national security discussions to my colleague Tom Barnett and his Weblog. If one doubts the importance of the connection between prosperity and security, one need only look at the new DNI’s first testimony before Congress [“Financial Crisis Called Top Security Threat to U.S.,” by Walter Pincus and Joby Warrick, Washington Post, 13 February 2009].

“Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair told Congress … that instability in countries around the world caused by the current global economic crisis, rather than terrorism, is the primary near-term security threat to the United States. ‘Roughly a quarter of the countries in the world have already experienced low-level instability such as government changes because of the current slowdown,’ Blair told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, delivering the first annual threat assessment in six years in which terrorism was not presented as the primary danger to this country. Making his first appearance before the panel as President Obama’s top intelligence adviser, Blair said the most immediate fallout from the worldwide economic decline for the United States will be ‘allies and friends not being able to fully meet their defense and humanitarian obligations.’ He also saw the prospect of possible refugee flows from the Caribbean to the United States and a questioning of American economic and financial leadership in the world.”

I haven’t read the transcript of Blair’s testimony, but I am assuming that the term “humanitarian obligations” refers to social services (such as, healthcare, education, sanitation, and law enforcement). In other words, Blair fears that “governance gaps” will foment unrest and that unrest will disrupt the global economy even further which will deepen the current economic crisis. When large portions of the population are unhappy, bad things happen.

“Blair also raised the specter of the ‘high levels of violent extremism’ [like] the turmoil of the 1920s and 1930s along with ‘regime-threatening instability’ if the economic crisis persists over a one-to-two-year period.”

Turmoil raises fears and when people are frightened the first thing they want is security. During such times, civil liberties are often forfeited as strongmen promise to stop violence. Such men almost always fight to stay in authority once they have been intoxicated by power. Under those conditions, corruption becomes rampant, resources are squandered, and long-term prosperity falls victim to short-term exploitation. Blair, of course, can’t do anything about changing the conditions that cause such distress, he can only report on them.

“In answer to a question about whether he was shifting assets to cover the financial downturn, Blair said that by leading off with the economic situation he ‘was trying to act as your intelligence officer today, telling you what I thought the Senate ought to be caring about.’ He said he was not refocusing the intelligence community’s basic collection and analytic work from traditional concerns such as terrorism, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, North Korea, Russia and China. In fact, during the nearly two-hour hearing, Blair took lawmakers on a virtual tour of every other major and minor security threat, from terrorism and cyber-attacks to the country’s evolving relations with Russia and China.”

Although Blair downgraded the threat of terrorism, he didn’t dismiss it altogether.

“Discussing terrorism, Blair emphasized the progress being made against al-Qaeda. ‘We have seen notable progress in Muslim opinion turning against terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda’ as more religious leaders question terrorists’ use of brutal tactics against fellow Muslims. He said that ‘al-Qaeda today is less capable and effective than it was a year ago’ based on the pressure the U.S., Pakistan and others put on Osama bin Laden and his core leadership in Pakistan’s tribal areas and the decline of al-Qaeda in Iraq. He also reported that while no major country faces the risk of collapse at the hands of any terrorist groups, ‘Pakistan and Afghanistan have to work hard to repulse a still serious threat’ to their governments.”

In his new book Great Powers: America and the World after Bush, Tom asserts that Bush administration was too myopic about terrorism. He writes:

“They say time heals all wounds. Similarly, it muddles all doctrines. When Bush entered office, transnational terrorism seemed dangerous but manageable — an ‘over there’ challenge. Fast forward to 2009 and tell me what’s different, other than your approach to air travel. Yes, we now know that a 9/11 is eminently possible, and we’re keenly aware of its likely engineers and where they now reside—one apartment over in northwest Pakistan. When they pull off the next one, probably in Europe, we’ll collectively head to roughly the same spot to roust them out again. Meanwhile, we’ll make reasonable efforts to bolster networks against their threats, both here and there, but the world must go on. Terrorists monopolized America’s attention for a while, but this happened nowhere else, either because others regions were used to such travails or because bigger things were happening. … Truly strong dictatorships tend not to suffer domestic terrorists, simply because they suppress civil liberties so effectively. These regimes may frequently sponsor terrorists abroad, but that’s an easily explained tactic: weaker states employ terrorists in asymmetrical warfare against stronger foes, while stronger ones may sponsor terrorists to avoid direct warfare with similar opponents. When it comes to domestic terrorism, it’s the weaker authoritarian regimes that both spawn terrorists and have a hard time controlling them. In those situations, potential terrorists are afforded just enough economic opportunity to make them dangerous—namely, access to financial, communication and travel networks that facilitate their tactics. Authoritarian regimes can also push these troublemakers abroad, and therein lies our main interest in this long war. But, since almost 90 percent of attacks occur in the terrorist’s country of origin, 9/11-like strikes remain statistically rare, meaning the average American is far more likely to be killed by lightning than Al Qaeda.”

I doubt that Blair would disagree with Tom on those points. Nevertheless, he says that America will continue with attempts to eradicate terrorist organizations.

“Despite these successes, Blair said al-Qaeda and its affiliates and allies ‘remain dangerous and adaptive enemies,’ and the threat continues that they could inspire or orchestrate an attack on the United States or Europe. He told the committee there is still concern that al-Qaeda could inspire some homegrown terrorists inside the United States. He added that if al-Qaeda is forced out of the Pakistan tribal areas, it will have difficulty supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan. He said bin Laden could relocate. For example, he said, al-Qaeda elements in Yemen now pose a new threat to Saudi Arabia, whose own efforts have been successful in killing or capturing most al-Qaeda senior leaders in that country.”

The most important lesson one can learn from Tom and Admiral Blair is that one either helps create prosperity throughout the world or, by omission, one helps create more authoritarianism. Authoritarianism is not good for globalization and globalization is essential for bringing more people out of poverty. The path to prosperity is paved by hope. The lack of hope is what makes recessions and depressions so pernicious. As wrote in another post, hopes and dreams — even distant ones — are enough to motivate people. Speaking of hope, good friend and fellow blogger, Shawn Beilfuss, posted some excellent comments about a program in Afghanistan that is teaching business skills to Afghan women [Project Artemis: Building Afghan’s Connectivity with the World]. Shawn and the founders of Project Artemis understand that hope is created when people believe they have a stake in the future. Admiral Blair was essentially saying the same thing to Congress. The financial crisis is a security problem because it has robbed people of hope by diminishing their stake in the future.

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