Security Narratives in the Age of Globalization

Author Name: Hassan Mujtaba       08 Apr 2021     Global view

In many nations, the narratives around the notion of “national security” have evolved over a passage of time in many countries. Although early scholars of warfare such as Sun Tzu did highlight the importance of morality, legality and economics in warfare, in the early days of city-states and large [regional] empires nevertheless had their narratives on security revolve around building and maintaining a large army, with kinetic capabilities to project power. In other words, a state or an empire with the greatest number of soldiers or strongest manpower was considered to be the most secure among all its contemporaries.

During the Industrial Age and especially in the 20th Century, the narrative on national security metamorphosed from having greater manpower to possessing a superior arsenal. This was especially true after nuclear weapons came to the fore as an additional and non-conventional source of security. Shortly thereafter—i.e., at the end of the Cold War in 1991—the narrative further changed to revolve around the economy, in what is now called “economic security” or “geoeconomics.”

In the recently concluded Islamabad Security Dialogue, a flagship initiative of the government’s National Security Division where several think tanks, including the Centre for Aerospace & Security Studies (CASS) actively participated, economic security and geoeconomics held a very important place. In fact, the second session of the Dialogue was titled “Economic Security at the Core,” thus emphasizing the importance being laid on economics within a new national security paradigm.

Put very simply, the narrative of economic security emphasizes that a nation-state cannot be fully secure if it continues to have a weak economy, low development, and a backward industrial base. Small wonder then that all the global and regional powers of the 21st Century have strong, robust economies with high rankings on the Human Development Index (HDI).

The list of such countries includes established powers such as the United States (US), European Union (EU), and Japan, but also emerging countries such as China. In fact, the modern-day criterion for rising [military] power is predicated on a nation-state having a strong economy with sustainable growth of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In other words, a country’s soft power (including a robust economy) is increasingly shaping its hard power (i.e., its political/military might) in the age of the knowledge economy.

Moreover, the forces of globalization are further reinforcing the paradigm of economic security by consistently pulling away from the traditional notion of ensuring security within the confines of a nation’s borders. This was strongly emphasized by Professor Miles Kahler, who spoke in Session 2 of the Dialogue. While this is a worrying development for the people subscribing to the ‘conventional’ view of security—often referred to as ‘hawks’—this is, in reality, a comforting trend that will only bolster national security for reasons outlined below.

While globalization has transformed nearly all facets of human life, it has perhaps disproportionately affected—and benefitted—international trade flows. Indeed, according to publicly available data, international trade has increased by a whopping 4427% in the last century (1913-2014), with the steepest rise coming in the last two decades of the 20th Century. The massive increase in global trade flows has also radically transformed commodity production, as the entire world has become a singular manufacturing hub enmeshed together in intricate supply chains. Indeed, production supply chains, also referred to as Global Value Chains (GVCs), are the most defining feature of economic globalization with far-reaching political, social, and security implications.

While the channel through which GVCs impact national security may not be perceptible at first glance, the reality is that GVCs breed economic interdependence among states via mutual commercial interests, which strengthens economic security and which in turn consolidates national security, because it raises the stake of states vis-à-vis industrial manufacturing, commodity production, and mutual trade. This makes it more costly for the trading countries to engage in a war or even downgrade their diplomatic ties, hence creating a deterrence effect.

This deterrence creates a win-win situation for the otherwise antagonistic states as it saves their precious military manpower and arsenal, besides improving economic life via free trade and inflow of foreign investment. The alternative, by contrast, might result in a disempowered economy and wars of attrition that harm people over prolonged periods. In other words, the forces of globalization—GVCs in particular—are creating a security pattern which is termed ‘Mutually Assured Economic Destruction’ (MAED). The MAED security pattern is best epitomized by the recent US-China skirmish in the form of a trade war. While the former [right-wing] government of President Donald Trump made earnest efforts to completely de-link or decouple from Chinese trade, the extensive commercial interests and GVCs existing between the two superpowers, frustrated its efforts.

Consider the examples of Huawei and Apple—two popular technology brands that were subjected to intense vitriol by President Trump as part of his trade war-mongering. While the former President accused Huawei of stealing trade secrets and theft of intellectual property, the fact is that Huawei is the second-largest producer of smartphones in the world, and about 25% of the components in a typical Huawei phone are supplied by various US manufacturers. Moreover, Huawei phones are powered by Google’s Android system, thereby giving Google—an American firm—strong stakes in the success of China-based Huawei.

Similarly, Mr. Trump admonished the Apple leadership for shifting their manufacturing operations to China, thereby cutting into local US employment. In response, Tim Cook—the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Apple—defended China by saying that the country’s tooling engineering skill is state-of-the-art, and it is this skill that Apple requires and goes after. Moreover, China also serves as the second-largest market for Apple products outside of the US.

In this context, then, it is not surprising that the Trumpian trade war with China failed to achieve its desired objectives and never morphed into an all-out kinetic war—the probability of which remains minimal owing to the MAED security dynamic.

To conclude, in the age of the knowledge economy, the narrative on national security has radically altered from military confrontation to economic cooperation. This was an important part of the economic security deliberations within the Islamabad Security Dialogue. This narrative is further shaped by forces of globalization such as free trade and GVCs, which have tied regional and global states in a convoluted web of economic interdependency. Thus, focusing on economic development, trade, and human prosperity is a modern-day version of national defense, and states which refuse to accept this reality are destined to be ostracized from the world community and become archaic, along with the conventional narrative on national security.

Hassan Mujtaba is a researcher at the Centre for Aerospace & Security Studies (CASS). He can be reached at cass.thinkers@gmail.com

 

Image Source: Karlin, Mara. “Recommendations for Future National Defense Strategy,” Brookings, 12 Dec. 2017, www.brookings.edu/research/recommendations-for-future-national-defense-strategy/.