Readiness and War in a Globalized System

By Howell, Llewellyn D. | USA TODAY, November 2000 | Go to article overview
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Readiness and War in a Globalized System


Howell, Llewellyn D., USA TODAY


ONE OF THE MOST CRITICAL FACTORS in strategic planning is the ability to anticipate surprise, to look ahead. It is the ability to deal with a wide variety of circumstances in a complex international environment, but it does have to be coordinated in some clear vision of the future.

Republican military thinking in Campaign 2000 seems to have had a clear vision of the past. As expressed by vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney, the U.S. needs to be ready to fight the Korean War and the Gulf War (again) simultaneously. The fact that the Pentagon's system of measuring readiness uses these same terms is a reflection on its own reactive nature and symbolizes a critical fault in American strategic thinking.

Elements of every society seem to continue to try to hold back and even reverse globalization. Such are the cults that try to stop the sunrise or, as United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has put it, "argue against the laws of gravity." It is not only pointless, but counterproductive, since the time wasted means that less coordinated and cooperative effort is put into shaping the direction of globalized human productivity. Annan has warned that "the world around us is changing, and we change with it or we will be left behind. We have to adapt to the realities outside."

Most of us have recognized that globalization encompasses much more than just a global economy, with its movements and distribution of goods, jobs, and capital. It clearly includes political and cultural implications that have upset conservative elites around the globe. It affects environmental considerations, international standards of law, social developments, and human rights. Neglected in this complexity is the understanding that globalization affects military strategy. In a globalized system, when we militarily set upon an opponent, the opponent is us.

The reason is because globalization is also integration. Here's what happens: As the economies of nations spread into one another with production facilities dispersed widely and markets totally enmeshed, a military attack by one country on another may mean bombing its own factories or markets in a cross-border war. To keep the global economy on an even keel, some accommodation has to be made across national boundaries on wage rates and the treatment of workers. That is, human rights in any country become a critical matter for every country. One national system cannot condone slave labor while others respect the rights of labor to organize. When human fights are abused, with economic effects, they may need correction with the assistance of military forces from outside the national system. Simple humanitarianism has its merits--this is economic and political self-interest--and that defense of human rights may be necessary at any time and virtually anywhere on our increasingly smaller planet. There is a simple philosophy that should serve as a guide: If you have a good maintenance man, you will seldom need to bring in the repairman.

There is a concession among most on both sides of the American readiness debate that is not simply a question of whether we are ready to fight a war or two, but of what we are ready for.

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