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Volume 3 | Issue 1 | Page 90-91 | Feb 2012
The Economics of Security

Early in 2000, the Institute for Policy Studies, where I work, hosted a regrouping session for the veterans of the Battle in Seattle—the massive, mostly peaceful protest that disrupted the World Trade Organization’s 1999 Ministerial Conference. The “battle” was the anticorporate globalization movement’s coming-of-age. Representatives of labor, environmental, consumer protection, and trade activist groups crowded into our conference room to hash out what, now that they had captured the world’s attention, they should do with it. I squeezed into one corner.

Because we are a think tank, some of the discussion focused on what intellectual work would be most useful in helping the movement to grow and deepen. I came to the meeting knowing very little about the topic. With the novice’s fear of stating the obvious, I suggested timidly that the movement needed a strong answer to what seemed to me one of globalization’s strongest suits: that it serves as a deterrent to war by binding the world together in webs of mutual economic interest that are threatened by conflict.

The answer I was looking for is in Lloyd Dumas’s new book The Peacekeeping Economy: Using Economic Relationships to Build a More Peaceful, Prosperous, and Secure World (Yale University Press, 2011).

The timing of this book is fortunate. The anticorporate globalization movement’s coming-of-age also turned out to be its high-water mark. The convulsions unleashed by 9/11 drained it of its energy. A decade later, the combination of mostly peaceful change in the Middle East, the winding down of the United States’ post-9/11 wars, and the peaceful “occupations” around the world protesting the economic game rigged in favor of the privileged all make this the perfect time to examine what globalization and peacemaking have to say to each other.

Dumas’s book was in the hands of its publishers before either the Arab Spring or the Occupation Fall got under way. But it provides an intellectual framework that could help make sense of them both. Dumas’s project is neither to defend nor to reject globalization, but to find the principles that can allow it to become a foundation for peace and prosperity. This change, argues Dumas, does not depend on utopian improvements in human nature.

The project to fix globalization in the service of peace is built on four pillars. The first is to create a better balance of power among economic actors, so as to make their relationships more mutually beneficial. Globalization thus far has created lopsided markets that have concentrated economic power. Dumas lays out a variety of mechanisms for reversing this trend in order to address current imbalances in benefits, trade volume, and decision-making power. He sees advantages in less-developed countries emphasizing regional trade among themselves, where greater balance exists. He also sees these regional trade groups, such as Africa’s ECOWAS, acting as a block to create more balance between their interests and those of the world’s economic powerhouses.

For his second pillar, Dumas focuses on counteracting one potentially destabilizing dimension of globalization’s web of interdependence. Countries dependent on their neighbors for goods critical to their own survival—especially water, food, and energy—can be tempted to remedy this deficiency by appropriating those goods, and those countries, through force. Dumas sketches several ways that countries could achieve security in critical goods while building trading partnerships that thereby diminish the incentives for aggression.

The third pillar elevates development goals over globalization’s current gold standard of economic growth. Here, the ways that Dumas’s four principles connect and reinforce each other become clear. Development that raises living standards in poor countries allows these countries to become better trading partners, for example; it creates more balanced relationships in the global economy. Successful development strategies depend on less developed countries having a greater role in determining the paths that fit their own history and culture—a better balance in decision making.

Successful development strategies also need to prioritize reducing ecological stress. This is the fourth and final pillar. One of globalization’s most critical challenges is finding a way to raise living standards and facilitate trade by means other than those that have led the planet to the tipping point of climate catastrophe. Effecting a global energy transition is essential and will be difficult. Dumas suggests some ways forward.

The Peacemaking Economy builds on work Dumas has done since the 1970s on the problem of converting a U.S. economy far too dependent on military production. Since the end of the Cold War, contractors have with great cunning spread the tentacles of weapons contracts into virtually every congressional district, creating a powerful political protection racket to keep military budgets growing irrespective of the need.

In his new book Dumas walks us through the dimensions of the conversion challenge and the ways and means of transition—for defense workers, management, military scientists and engineers, and so on—that he and colleagues worked out decades ago. Deficit reduction is now high on the national agenda, creating the best opening since the post–Cold War period to effect this transition. The predictable pushback is powerful. And the missing piece is a shift of incentives, replacing government-supported military activity and the taxpayer-funded jobs it supports with productive, or as Dumas terms it, contributive investment to create a new jobs base.

The case for conversion has a lot of moving parts: a security argument (do we really need a “forward presence” on every continent?) and an economic argument (an investment agenda to create new jobs, supported by research showing that $1 billion spent on military production creates far fewer jobs than an equivalent amount spent on clean energy, health care, or education), plus local models that can showcase how communities can replace a military with a green economic base. If it were easy, it would have happened long ago.

Dumas’s is the kind of scholarship I most admire. It takes on big (the biggest) problems. It applies the insights of its own discipline to them. And it reaches out to push beyond the limitations of that discipline to mine the insights of others. To this biggest of problems, Dumas brings to bear the literature of aid and trade, security policy, political science, psychology, and history.

Needless to say, taking the dominant structural change in the global economy of the postwar period, and figuring out how it can be restructured to support the goal of world peace, is an ambitious undertaking. A single volume laying out such a framework cannot go deep into very many of its dimensions, and this book does not. One of its many strengths is its forthright approach in acknowledging the obstacles as they arise and the problems that remain to be solved.

What Dumas has done is to lay out a research agenda and a work plan for the rest of us. Is his framework viable? I don’t know. I think, though, that the question needs to be turned around. Is globalization that increases inequality and climate change—prime movers of global conflict—viable? That question is easier. If we proceed either on the track of rampant, heedless, corporate-driven globalization, or on a track of retreat into fortress economies—if we fail to steer between these alternatives, if we fail to turn globalization toward peace—we will ensure a nonviable future.