The 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review of the United States of America on global trends reveals an interesting mixture of positive and negative trends that make it a little more challenging to predict how global threats and opportunities will evolve. Incidentally these are the trends that will define and determine the future global security environment. What are these trends? First is the rapid intensification of globalization, whose positive and negative effects are determining the direction of global political economy and security. On the one hand, and as the Review under reference rightly puts it, there are ‘unprecedented levels of global interconnectedness through technology, travel, trade, and social media’, which provide common incentives for, and more effective means of, fostering international cooperation and shared norms of behavior. Indeed, the forces of globalization are contributing to important macroeconomic changes throughout the world. Globalization is driven by advancements in science and technology and wheeled by trade and international finance. And the pace of technological and scientific innovation has the potential to both revolutionize global political economy and, at the same time, create global security concerns. The global trends may thus be said to be characterized by a rapid rate of change and a complexity, born of the multiple ways in which they intersect and influence one another. As a result, there is growing availability and flow of information around the world.
The second is an unintended consequence of globalization and the lack of global consensus on the direction of global political economy. Here, there is a mixture of geo-politics and what Samuel Huntington has labeled as the ‘Clash of Civilizations’. The end of the Cold War created a systemic vacuum, tilting the balance of power in favour of the West (liberalism). And beginning from Fukuyama (End of History), through McNamara (Out of the Cold) to Joseph Nye (Bound to Lead) etc., some false impression was aroused in the US, as if, as it were, the US needed to take charge of the direction of global political economy (a kind of Pax-Americana). It was this falsehood that led the US to intervene in many parts of the world in a crusade to impose liberalism on the world at large (at least, the Bush Doctrine says so). Incursions into Somalia (1992- Operation Restore Hope), Iraq (2003, Operation Desert Storm), Afghanistan (1997), and support for insurgencies in Libya, Syria, and elsewhere are indications of this desire of the US to be the global hegemon. Unfortunately, these incursions have enabled the ‘prophesy’ of Samuel Huntington to come true – the Clash of Civilizations. Cultures that are traditionally unreceptive to liberalism (in the American vein) have risen vehemently against what they perceive as Americanization (Westernization) of their systems.
The rise of sub-national groups like Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al-Shabab, ISIS, and many more is eloquent testimony to the just said. And, in this, they are using all the available tools of globalization. Indeed, the Review under reference notes: ‘At the same time, the technology-enabled 21st century operational environment offers new tools for state and non-state adversaries such as terrorists to pursue asymmetric approaches, exploiting where we are weakest’. Terrorists and other miscreants are using all the tools afforded by globalization. Jessica Stern, in her book ‘ISIS’, elaborates how the organization uses ICT enormously in its operations.
Incidentally, the world looks impotent in the face of the rise in activism of non-state actors like terrorists and trans-national organized crimes. The weakness stems mostly from the lack of global leadership in this direction. There seems to be a new dangerous emerging trend, which the Review rightly acknowledges, although it failed to call a spade a spade. That trend is an emerging ‘New Cold War’ in global geo-politics. Every international issue is looked at from geo-political lenses, reminiscent of the Cold War days. NATO’s eastward expansion has never been accepted by Russia. Skirmishes in Georgia (2008), Crimea and Ukraine (since 2013), and the warnings to Central European countries that are eager to join NATO (the latest being that of Montenegro), speak volumes on this issue. Russia’s unflinching support for Assad (Syria) and the US and Western support for Syrian rebels is another. Chinese brinkmanship in South East Asia (creating artificial islands) and US support for adjoining countries that are opposed to China; Sino-US rivalry in Africa and elsewhere; US, NATO support for Turkey in the feud between the latter and Russia over the shooting down of a Russian fighter jet, etc., are all indications of a world, heading for a Cold War. But this time, it is dangerous; dangerous because the rhetoric is scary – Russia beefing up its arsenals with additional 400 nuclear war heads, and the SS400; China building more sophisticated sub-marines, the US perfecting the F-35 (we promise in another piece to concentrate on the global arms build-up), and the threats coming from both sides. Indeed, this is of concern to the US. The Review was emphatic: ‘In the coming years, countries such as China will continue seeking to counter U.S. strengths using anti-access and area-denial (A2/AD) approaches and by employing other new cyber and space control technologies. Additionally, these and other states continue to develop sophisticated integrated air defenses that can restrict access and freedom of maneuver in waters and airspace beyond territorial limits. Growing numbers of accurate conventional ballistic and cruise missile threats represent an additional, cost-imposing challenge to U.S. and partner naval forces and land installations.’
It must be noted that it is in the frame of all these that terrorism is festering, becoming more diffused, daring, and unpredictable. It is a trend that will capture global attention and sap its energy for a long time to come. Generally, global sustained attention and engagement will be important in shaping emerging global trends, both positive and negative. However, unilateralism and the use of geo-political (Cold War) calculus in arresting the negative global trends is what seems to be happening. The fight against the Islamic State, for instance, is haphazard. The Russians are calling for a ‘One-Fist’ approach, where under the leadership of the United Nations, all forms of insurgencies are brought under control, through a pooling of forces, and political solutions are found to regional instability. If this approach is not adhered to, then the trends described above will continue and it will be difficult to have a future of predictable stability. Indeed, the continued efflux of persons into Europe and elsewhere is not going to bring palatable results. A new generation of terrorists will haunt Europe and the world at large for a long time to come.
In all, the future global security environment looks extremely gloomy. No country is immune from this gloom, especially as the UN seems impotent and has been reduced to a passive observer, good only at churning out ineffective Resolutions.