23 September 2019   Leave a comment

Nothing more needs to be said. Greta Thunberg spoke for us all.

Stewart M. Patrick and Kyle L. Evanoff have written a very good essay on the process of globalization that has been ongoing for the last five centuries. They take the occasion of Ferdinand Magellan’s circumnavigation of the planet to measure the processes of change attendant to globalization. Some of those processes, such as economic growth, have been beneficial. Others, such as the racism that underpinned the destruction of indigenous communities, have been painfully detrimental. Their conclusion is straightforward and powerful:

“What has not changed in equal measure is our collective mindset about the world. Five centuries after Magellan embarked on his voyage, humanity still clings to anachronistic dreams and obsessions of geographic mastery, economic exploitation, and planetary dominance. We have yet to come to terms with the practical realities and ethical obligations of life on an integrated planet. To survive and thrive on a world that has grown both smaller and more interconnected, humanity needs to adopt a more mature approach to globalization. This new, planetary politics should recognize that cosmopolitanism—the conviction that humans belong to a single community, united by a common morality—is not simply an ideal. It is an imperative that must inform how we delineate societies, respond to new technologies, manage the global economy, view and treat each other, interact with the natural world, and countless other aspects of political life.”  

The conclusion is hardly novel, but it is one that appears to become truer by the day even as our willingness to accept the conclusion seems to diminish.

Patrick Cockburn has written an excellent essay on the significance of the attacks on the Saudi Arabian oil facilities. He doesn’t dwell on whether Iran or the Houthis launched the attack, but rather points out the power that new technologies have given to ostensibly weaker powers.

“Debate is ongoing about whether it was the Iranians or the Houthis who carried out the attack, the likely answer being a combination of the two, but perhaps with Iran orchestrating the operation and supplying the equipment. But over-focus on responsibility diverts attention from a much more important development: a middle ranking power like Iran, under sanctions and with limited resources and expertise, acting alone or through allies, has inflicted crippling damage on theoretically much better-armed Saudi Arabia which is supposedly defended by the US, the world’s greatest military super-power.

“If the US and Saudi Arabia are particularly hesitant to retaliate against Iran it is because they know now, contrary to what they might have believed a year ago, that a counter-attack will not be a cost-free exercise. What happened before can happen again: not for nothing has Iran been called a ‘drone superpower’. Oil production facilities and the desalination plants providing much of the fresh water in Saudi Arabia are conveniently concentrated targets for drones and small missiles. 

“In other words, the military playing field will be a lot more level in future in a conflict between a country with a sophisticated air force and air defence system and one without. The trump card for the US, Nato powers and Israel has long been their overwhelming superiority in airpower over any likely enemy. Suddenly this calculus has been undermined because almost anybody can be a player on the cheap when it comes to airpower.”

How the world will adjust to this shift in the configuration of power remains to be seen. Those who support massive spending on armaments will likely deny that anything has changed. That attitude is roughly analogous to the attitude of the great powers toward the transformation of warfare brought about by industrialization prior to World War I. It is always a mistake to fight the last war.

Posted September 23, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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