Friday, May 4, 2012

Interdependence & Security

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Interdependence and security.

It is naïve to assume that interdependence on it’s own invariably minimizes the probability of conflict between states. Interdependence varies depending on the actors involved; each relationship has it’s own characteristics but all open up lines of information and dialogue that lessen the chance of strategic miscalculation. Interdependence is, however, an essentially economic form of co-operation, and does not always effect the security environment of the actors involved.

Though interdependence implies a two-way flow of resources, it does not require that these flows be equal. This unequal state relationship is often magnified in states whose elites gain immensely from interdependence but whose general populace sees little benefit. The unrest generated by such a situation can genuinely increase the probability of conflict on both a domestic and international level. Post Cold War US relations with most of the world, and the global reaction to those policies, are a good example of this. The US’s dominance of the international system would mean nothing if it could not be used to gain favourable terms for it’s agreements, in all arenas. No state gains more from their relations with the US than the US gains itself because the US will, rationally, act in it’s own interests first. And yet without a comparably powerful option (with a similarly large market) the unrest generated by the US’s unequal interdependences has caused genuinely global unease about US power amongst the general populace, with some extremely damaging side effects (especially in the middle east.) An excellent example of unequal global interdependence spawning an instability that has drawn the US (in various partnerships) into two interstate conflicts far from it’s borders. Though interdependence increases the monetary utility of avoiding conflict, the inequality of interdependence can provoke conflict rather than minimize it.

Interdependence requires co-operation, not necessarily a level of trust between states that can influence security policy. In plain terms that means that just because you sell and buy from someone, you still fully expect them to beat you and take everything you have if you’re not careful. ASEAN before the financial collapse of the late 0’s saw Southeast Asian states interdependent to a level not seen in the region before, while simultaneously using the wealth gained from that interdependence to commence a costly upgrade of their military capabilities. Having read the Keohane-Mearsheimer debate in this week’s reading I believe the divide between security and economics at an institutional level is to blame. The international system contains a number of successful co-operative economic institutions but few successful co-operative security institutions. I do not, however, believe this problem something that can be completely remedied but is inherent to the two different systems of security and economics. Capitalist economics is based on wealth creation rather than wealth redistribution, an open system offering unlimited potential for growth. Geo-politics is essentially a closed system, there is only a limited amount of space over which political influence can be projected. Long-term co-operation is easier in economics because all sides can gain over time, while in geo-politics one actor can only gain so much before it must take from another in order to continue gaining. Trust between states is easier in the open system of economics than in the closed system of geo-politics.

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It is naïve to assume that interdependence on it’s own invariably minimizes the probability of conflict between states. Interdependence varies depending on the actors involved; each relationship has it’s own characteristics. While interdependence invariably opens up lines of information and dialogue that lessen the chance of strategic miscalculation, it does not guarantee an equal distribution of gains (both at inter- and intra-state level) or that economic co-operation will translate into trust and co-operation on security issues. The remaining divide between security and economic issues, and the essential difference between both, provide an environment in which current institutions are unsuitable to the task of converting economic interdependence into co-operative security.

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