Saturday, 16 August 2008

The Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention Crashes and Burns

Back when I was in college, I briefly toyed with the idea of going into the field of International Relations. One day I interrupted a friend studying for a test in her IR course. Upon asking her what she was studying, she replied she was memorizing the "golden rules" of international relations. What, I asked sceptically, were these rules? The first golden rule, she replied, was that no democracy ever goes to war with another democracy.

It was at that point that I knew IR wasn't really for me. I just knew too much history to be able to buy into these kinds of simplistic, uninformed and ignorant "golden rules". In the laa-laa land of American academic IR theory these self-serving theories may have great traction but in the messy, complex, unsimplified reality revealed by history they serve little purpose but to obfuscate the facts.

But wait a minute, these kinds of theories haven't just stayed in laa-laa land but unfortunately have leaked into the public consciousness through ignorant hacks and bestselling writers such as Thomas Friedman, author of the utterly simplistic and mostly wrong cheering chorus of a book on globalization, "The World is Flat" (and incidentally someone who attended the same college I did, which might explain where he gets some of his ideas).

Take for incidence this passage from one of his articles:
So I’ve had this thesis for a long time and came here to Hamburger University at McDonald’s headquarters to finally test it out. The thesis is this: No two countries that both have a McDonald’s have ever fought a war against each other.

The McDonald’s folks confirmed it for me. I feared the exception would be the Falklands war, but Argentina didn’t get its first McDonald’s until 1986, four years after that war with Britain.

Now I don't understand why Thomas Friedman is so popular (in the past few months two different people have enthusiastically recommended his abysmal book to me), but then he's just a mediocre popular writer, who will (hopefully) be forgotten a few years down the line. The thing is its not just him, serious scholars buy into this kind of thing.

At this point one may be prompted to point out that the Kargil War between Pakistan and India happened when both had plenty of McDonald's franchises and democratically elected governments to boot, but one could argue that Pakistan and India don't rate high on the democracy scale, or, if you believe Nawaz Sharrif, that the Pakistani army started the war on its own without taking the democratically elected leader of the country into confidence.

But as various bloggers have pointed out, what about Georgia and Russia?

More on this here and here.


Desi Italiana said...


I totally hear you about IR. The problem is that IR in the US is, to our detriment, made up of "realism." This unfortunate tendency to use the 'realist' school of thought has led US foreign policy down disasterous paths.

You might want to check out Carne Ross' book. He's a former Brit diplomat who had very erudite things to say about IR, the UN, and lack of democracy in all of this:

Anonymous said...

Yes, Friedman excels in making simplistic statements, but what astounds me is that intellectuals swallow it! To put things in perspective, and to hear about economics from a Nobel winner:

Joseph Stiglitz (Nobel winner for economics and was Chief Economist at World Bank) said while on a trip to India, that 600 million people from India (out of the one billion!) have been left out of the “development” fold of globalization. So, obviously, all India is not going to migrate into middle class, if anything the inequality is far, far worse now, after the advent of globalization.

Similarly newspaper reports have pointed out how Chinese workers are working in apalling conditions, to churn out the low cost products, with poor pay, cramped rooms, no accident or health insurance benefits, no job security, no overtime, long working hours - so who is actually benefiting from this sort of globalization? Corporates ofcourse, and the few privileged people of India and China who have been able to get educated in engineering and technology! Not the vast majority of population.

I would recommend a small, but interesting book, by Aronica and Ramdoo, "The World is Flat? A Critical Analysis of Thomas Friedman's New York Times Bestseller." It is a small book compared to the 600 page tome by Friedman, and aimed at the common man and students alike. As popular as the book may be, some reviewers assert that by what it leaves out, Friedman's book is dangerous. The authors point to the fact that there isn't a single table or data footnote in Friedman's entire book.

"Globalization is the greatest reorganization of the world since the Industrial Revolution," says Aronica. Aronica and Ramdoo conclude by listing over twenty action items that point the way forward, for understanding the critical issues of globalization.

You may want to see
and watch
for an interesting counterperspective on Friedman's
"The World is Flat".

Also a really interesting 6 min wake-up call: Shift Happens!

There is also a companion book listed: Extreme Competition: Innovation and the Great 21st Century Business Reformation

Misanthrope said...

Thanks to both Desi Italiana and Anon for the links. I'll be looking to check them out soon.

The assumptions of the process of globalization has been questioned by a number of historians as well. Particularly the idea that it is a new or solely western-driven process.