Middle Eastern Economic Development and Security Fundamentally Related

By Lieberman, Joseph | Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly, April 15, 2005 | Go to article overview

Middle Eastern Economic Development and Security Fundamentally Related


Lieberman, Joseph, Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly


In focusing the opening panel of this year's Munich Conference on the relationship between economic development and global security, Horst Teltschik has offered an important insight about the world today and suggested a significant way to make it safer tomorrow.

The insight is that global economic development has made military conflict much less likely among countries that are connected by it.

The suggested policy for a safer tomorrow, therefore, is to economically integrate the countries currently outside the global economic network in which Islamist terrorists -our most threatening enemies - will otherwise grow.

In his Inaugural Address, President Bush upheld the pursuit of freedom as the driving ideal of America's foreign policy and made clear that in the world's war against terrorism, the best way to defend our liberty is to spread liberty to the places where tyranny now thrives, opportunity is stifled and terrorism grows.

I want to argue this morning that the liberty of which the President spoke means economic as well as political freedom. Just as democracies are unlikely to wage war against one another, so too are countries whose economies are connected in the modern world unlikely to allow their differences to lead to military conflict.

For evidence of the proposition that economic unity can be diplomatic destiny, we need go no further than U.S.-EU relations - often contentious but never belligerent. While our shared histories and values matter most, in our long-term relationship, so too do our intertwined economies.

The second convenient illustration of the point is the EU itself, where historic and often bloody rivalries have in our time been diminished - hopefully extinguished - not just by Europe's political union, but also by its economic union.

Of course, history cautions us not to conclude that economic globalization means the end of war.

But it can fundamentally change relationships between countries the way nuclear weapons changed the nature of relations in the Cold War.

The strategic doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction - or MAD - which carried us through the Cold War without direct military conflict with the Soviet Union may now have been succeeded by what might be called MADD II - Mutually Assured Developmental Depression, with similar results. Once nations become interconnected by the global flow of capital, trade, technology, and telecommunications, war becomes so economically devastating that rational leaders will avoid it.

One of the main reasons globalization brings a peace dividend is that it raises standards of living throughout the world, which usually contributes to the rule of law and democracy. This distribution of power gives people the ability to restrain their leaders and prevent nations from falling backwards into war and poverty.

The number of people in the world living in poverty fell by 130 million between 1990 and 2002. Child mortality fell from 88 per 1,000 live births to 70 in the same period. In the Middle East, the numbers and people are moving in the opposite direction. From 1990 to 2001, the percentage of people living in poverty in the Middle East more than doubled while child mortality declined at half the rate of the rest of world.

How could this have happened, particularly at a time when the world's demand for energy from the Middle East increased as has its price?

The sad fact is that in the Middle East in the final decades of the 20th Century, while the rest of the world tore down old commercial and cultural barriers and saw their living standards rise, most Muslim countries fortified the barriers and saw standards of living fall.

Many of these countries are now single-commodity economies, with rigidly controlled public sectors that choke development, trade, innovation and opportunity - and, incidentally, political freedom. …

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