Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ireland's difficulty...

In 1916, while Britain was busy fighting a disastrous war with Germany on the continent, a group of Irish nationalists decided to launch a rebellion to win Ireland independence. Reasoning that "England's difficulty is Ireland's opportunity", the rebels declared Ireland an independent republic, but the British hit back and stamped out the rising. The idea exploited by Irish rebels was hardly unique: when Ancient Rome faced economic difficulties it was invaded, divided and sacked. Rome's difficulties were opportunities for Goths and Vandals and Huns.

1916 was the time of England's difficulty. 2010 is the time of Ireland's difficulty as the economy faces serious problems. But history does not repeat itself, things are different now. Ireland, burdened with a massive debt and experiencing emigration again, is not faced with some foreign power determined to take advantage of its weakness through violence.

Instead the interdependence of modern economies is so pronounced that foreign powers hurry to prop up their neighbours in times of economic crisis. American journalist Thomas Friedman proposes a "Dell Theory of Conflict Resolution" which may explain why weaknesses in one country no longer inspire invasions by another, why debt-stricken Ireland won't be occupied or enslaved:

The Dell Theory stipulates: No two countries that are both part of a major global supply chain, like Dell’s, will ever fight a war against each other as long as they are both part of the same global supply chain.

There may be negative effects to economic globalisation but Friedman argues that the spread of corporations across national borders means that the destruction of one country will cause deep economic harm to its attacker, making peace a much more profitable option.


  1. Ah, he's changed the name of this idea. In 'The Lexus and The Olive Tree' he calls it the 'Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention'. The Golden Arches being the McDonald's logo. He states that no two countries with a McDonald's have gone to war or would (with several caveats attached). Of course no sooner had he said that then NATO started bombing Kosovo.

    However, he rallies and turns the whole thing around. He claims that the war ended quickly because Kosovans didn't want to have their modern European cities bombed into the stone age. They wanted to be connected with Europe and the west, not isolated from it. As he puts it rather glibly, "They wanted to stand in line for burgers, more than they wanted to stand in line for Kosovo." (p.253)

    So that must explain the change of name from 'Conflict Prevention' to 'Conflict Resolution'.

    When he talks about globalisation and peace he admits that you can't have McDonald's without McDonnell Douglas. Globalisation by force, if necessary, may be the order of the day it would seem is what he is saying.

    Anyway, I do agree with him about economic interdependence and peace. Is that not a key reason why the EEC was set up? To bind the economies of France and Germany so tightly together they would just have to kiss and make up and stop going to war with each other every twenty years.

  2. Haha, yes I heard that NATO messed up his original theory!

    Europe today is eerily peaceful by historical standards. If not the total avoidance of war, perhaps economic interdependence may make wars shorter and less severe. The Russia-Georgia clash may be an example.

    I notice that East Asia has lots of major rivalries: Japan versus China, Russia and both Koreas, North Korea versus everyone, China versus Taiwan and so on. Yet this tinderbox does not explode. I wonder if economic globalisation has stablised that region too. Today China is Japan's biggest trading partner.

    On the other hand I seem to remember that there was a book written before World War I arguing that the economic interdependence of Europe's great powers meant a major war was now impossible... d'oh!


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