Place the political world map on a desk. Run your index finger across the plane surface of the map. You can easily glide your finger across the map surface. Political borders and boundaries are visible, but not a hindrance to your finger’s act of exploring the map. The real world, as we know, is a round Earth inhabited by dozens of nation-states. Since the dawn of human civilization, humans have been the founding members of socio-political associations such as family, tribe, civil society and the state. Currently, the nation state system is the pinnacle of human civilization’s political progress. The Governments or regimes of these states, functioning on the behalf of the state, have succeeded in constructing or drawing geo-political borders to differentiate their state from that of others. In an egregious scenario, a wall – yes, literally a concrete wall was constructed to distinguish between two states. In most cases, man-made barriers such as barbed wires, fences, economic restrictions, political divisions and the like partition or separate two nation states.
In such a barrier full world it is a Herculean task to run one’s finger freely through the contours of the round planet without interruptions. Economic barriers (such as trade duties, restrictions etc) and political barriers until the mid twentieth century insulated the states of the world from culturally, economically and politically integrating with one another. Enter globalization. The world, more specifically the economic and the political world, hasn’t been the same. The map, the flat map with visible but non-interfering borders denotes just one thing – a globalized world, uninterrupted. Economic barriers, restrictions and boundaries have fallen apart. Political divisions have somewhat disappeared. The role of geographical borders has reduced – it is just meant to demarcate territory (establish clear physical borders) rather than the economy, culture and the way of life of the states it divides. Globalization, in simple words, is seamless integration of the world economy. The process of globalization entails free flow of goods and services, capital, personnel, technology, ideas and knowledge. It has transformed the round world into a “global village.” As Thomas Friedman book title goes “The World is Flat.” It indeed is. With the onset of globalization the world has flattened. According to Friedman, “Flattening of the world means that we are now connecting all the knowledge centres on the planet together into a single global network ... could usher in an era of prosperity and innovation.”
Globalization has led to the emergence of global supply chains. To quote Investopedia “Global supply chain is the network created amongst different companies producing, handling and/or distributing a specific product.” Multi-national corporations operate efficiently through these global supply chains. For instance, the global supply chain of an MNC such as Nokia involves production of lithium-powered mobile phone batteries in country A, making of the mobile phone exteriors in country B and finally assembling the mobile phone and mobile phone accessories in country C before distributing the final product in country D. This is an over-simplified explanation of global supply chains. In reality these are much more complex and horizontally integrated. Global supply chains operate seamlessly across the world in various countries at the same time.
Dell Theory of Conflict Prevention offers an interesting take – no two countries that are part of the same global supply chain will ever fight a war as long as they are each part of that supply chain. Dell Theory of Conflict Prevention wonderfully operates in the case of China and Taiwan. Both China and Taiwan are deeply synchronized in several of the world’s vital global supply chains involving electronic products and software systems. An essay in the International Herald Tribune (September 29, 2000), headlined “A Silicon Shield Protects Taiwan from China” argues that “In the last decade Taiwan has become the third largest information technology hardware producer... Military aggression by China against Taiwan would wipe trillions of dollars off the market value of technology companies listed in US, Japan and Europe.” Taiwan’s investments in mainland China are more than $120 Billion today. Thus, despite regular political confrontations it is unlikely that China will take on Taiwan; it is in the best of Chinese economic interests. To put it more bluntly, even if a war happens between the two, the MNCs operating in these regions will shut shop and cut off the two warring nations from their global supply chain. Both the MNCs and the warring nations will suffer but it is the warring couple which stands to lose significant ground in the global arena.
Friedman furthers an interesting take “Iraq, Syria, South Lebanon, North Korea, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran are not part of any global supply chain. All of them remain hotspots that could explode anytime soon.” Today we can see how ISIS has captured square miles of territories in Iraq and Syria. The Syrian civil war is an intricate web of rivalries playing out against each other – US backed civilian rebels versus Russian backed Assad faction (includes the military), Alawiite sect (Assad belongs to this sect) with support from Shias is up against the Sunnis (interestingly Saudi is backing the Sunnis whereas Iran the Shias) and finally ISIS and Kurds are fighting it out too. Moreover, US and Russia might join forces to eliminate ISIS. Afghanistan is at a risky footing (Taliban is waiting to regain lost ground) once US completely withdraws its troops from the region. Political milieu prevailing in Pakistan is enough to threaten global security. Is all of this mere coincidence? I think not. Global supply chains are non-existent in these territories. Of course, global supply chain is not the sole factor leading to the current state of affairs in these countries. There are many other pressing reasons. But isn’t it appalling that the missing link connecting these politically volatile regions are global supply chains?
A flat frictionless globalized world is a mixed blessing. On one hand the positives of globalization (more jobs, better product service, best quality of goods at lower prices, customer satisfaction etc) make the globalized world a dream come true. But on the other hand, the abuse and misuse of instruments and products of a globalization may transmogrify this dream into a nightmare. Internet, one of the facilitators of a globalized world is a great example in this context. It is through the medium of internet that non-state actors, particularly terrorist organizations such as ISIS, al-Qaeda, Taliban and the like have been able to recruit frustrated young men by brain washing them and by advertising to offer them a respectful life full of adventure and glory. It is through the omnipresent internet that a “Jihadi John” is able to scare people, right in the protection of their houses, by beheading foreigners. If you have global supply chains involving Nokia, Wal-mart, Dell etc then you also have global supply chains involving the “virtual caliphate”, al-Qaeda etc. The recent 13/ 11 Paris attacks clearly mirror the working of these Mephistophelean global supply chains. The flat world should be protected from such distortions.
It is clear that the world has come closer and closer since the beginning of the globalization process. However, one needs to raise an important question – where does the discipline of political science stand amidst the fast globalizing world? Friedman asserts “Political science may turn out to be the biggest growth industry of all in this new era.” As of now, globalization deals mainly with lifting up of economic barriers. It sees economic barriers as inconveniences. It sees certain traditions, cultures, institutions and habits as hindrances in the growth of market economy. Michael Sandel rightly says, “Some sources of friction are worth protecting. People cherish inefficiencies such as traditions, habits and institutions precisely because they reflect non-market values like social cohesion, religious faith and national pride.” One of the key obstacles to a rapidly globalizing world is the political entity of nation-state. With the emergence of a global cosmopolitan identity of an individual what happens to his/ her national identity? What if the process of globalization comes into conflict with the clearly defined laws of the nation state? How can a nation state protect the democratic framework in a globalized world? How can the nation state protect the democratic ideals of liberty, equality and justice from the flat world? These questions will occupy a meaningful place in the political space. They need to be answered and soon.
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