Security before Prosperity

Amidst all the Iraq-dominated news and comment, one question little asked is: what effect will the warlike turn in international relations have on globalisation? Till quite recently, it was widely assumed that increasing economic integration was inevitable. Technology and economics, it was said, were welding the world into a single unit. The challenge was to develop institutions to manage the problems of interdependence: financial crises, growing inequality between rich and poor, environmental damage, disruptive trade flows, the traffic in narcotics, and so on. In those rosy days, national security seemed less important. America had ‘won’ the Cold War, removing the danger of major interstate conflict. The main question for Russia was how to fit into a Western-led global economy and security system, with as little damage to its pride as possible.

The attack on New York’s Trade Centre on 11 September 2001 and the Bush Administration’s reaction to it has changed all that. The harmonising prospects of globalisation have been supplanted by the disruptive vistas of terrorism and nuclear proliferation. We have returned, that is, to the classic terrain of international relations from which we naively believed that we had escaped. In the 1990s we talked about ‘failed’ states, which might require humanitarian intervention. Today we talk about ‘rogue’ states, which harbour terrorist groups, and which need to be ‘zapped’ before they develop weapons of mass destruction.

In theory, the two discussions are not inconsistent. ‘Defence’, Adam Smith famously wrote ‘is more important than opulence’ and, he might have added, is prior to it. The world has to be made peaceful -by force where necessary -before economic integration can proceed. The reason is simple: insecure states will not entrust their economies to the free play of market forces. As for American unilateralism, today’s imperialists today can point to the role of the Pax Britannica in underpinning the global economy of the 19th century. From this point of view, the main shift in our thinking has been the realization that the conditions of peace are harder to secure than the first wave of globalist enthusiasts realised.

In practice, though, the mentality and policies associated with national security are opposite to those associated with globalisation. When security issues dominate, open frontiers become a threat not an opportunity. We already see this geopolitical logic at work in the tightening up of controls over the movement of people and money, in the new emphasis on controlling strategic supplies like oil, in the substitution of bilateral treaties for global rules, in the rise of defence expenditures. It is surely no coincidence that power in the Putin Administration has shifted towards those agencies most concerned with domestic security – the Ministry of the Interior and the FSB, successor to the KGB.

The dialectic between security and integration will shape global life for the foreseeable future. It will largely shape the internal direction of Russia. In the past, the logic of the power state has always been strong enough to stifle weak liberalising forces. Globalisation provides the best chance for the liberalisation of Russian politics and society. A serious check to globalisation is the best context for the reassertion of autocracy.