Globalization and Security

Source:‘Globalization and the study of international security’, Journal of Peace Research, vol. 37, no. 3, May 2000, pp. 391–403.

GLOBALIZATION IS BEST understood as a spatial phenomenon.1 It is not an ‘event’, but a gradual and ongoing expansion of interaction processes, forms of organization, and forms of cooperation outside the traditional spaces defined by sovereignty. Activity takes place in a less localized, less insulated way as transcon- tinental and interregional patterns criss-cross and overlap one another.2

The process of globalization is analytically distinct from interdependence. The latter, as Reinicke states, denotes growth in connections and linkages between sover- eign entities. Interdependence complicates external sovereignty in that sovereign choices have to be made to accommodate these interdependent ties. Globalization processes are not just about linkages but about interpenetration. As Guehenno noted, globalization is defined not just by the ever-expanding connections between states measured in terms of movement of goods and capital but the circulation and inter- penetration of people and ideas (Guehenno, 1999: 7). It affects not only external sovereignty choices but also internal sovereignty in terms of relations between the public and private sectors (Reinicke, 1997). Contrary to popular notions of globaliza- tion this does not mean that sovereignty ceases to exist in the traditional Weberian sense (i.e. monopoly of legitimate authority over citizen and subjects within a given territory. Instead, globalization is a spatial reorganization of production, industry, finance, and other areas which causes local decisions to have global repercussions and daily life to be affected by global events. […]

Much of the literature on globalization has focused on its economic rather than security implications.3 In part, this is because the security effects of globalization often get conflated with changes to the international security agenda with the end of Cold War Superpower competition.4 It is also because, unlike economics where glo- balization’s effects are manifested and measured everyday in terms of things like international capital flows and Internet use, in security, the effects are inherently harder to conceptualize and measure.To the extent possible, the ensuing analysis tries to differentiate globalization from post-Cold War effects on security. As a first-cut, one can envision a ‘globalization – security’ spectrum along which certain dialogues in security studies would fall. For example, the notion of selective engagement, pre- emptive withdrawal, democratic enlargement, or preventive defense as viable US grand strategies for the coming century would sit at the far end of this spectrum because they are predominantly security effects deriving from the end of bipolar competition rather than from globalization.5 Progressively closer to the middle would be arguments about the ‘debelicization’ of security or the obsolescence of war which do not have globalization as their primary cause, but are clearly related to some of these processes.6 Also in this middle range would be discussions on ‘rogue’ or ‘pariah’ states as this term is a function of the end of the Cold War; at the same time, however, the spread of information and technology exponentially raises the danger of these threats. Similarly, the end of the Cold War provides the permissive condition for the salience of weapons of mass destruction as the Soviet collapse directly affected the subsequent accessibility of formerly controlled substances such as plutonium or enriched uranium. But an equally important driver is globalization because the tech- nologies for creating these weapons have become easily accessible (Falkenrath, 1998). Finally, at the far end of the ‘globalization-security’ spectrum might be the salience of substate extremist groups or fundamentalist groups because their ability to organize transnationally, meet virtually, and utilize terrorist tactics has been substantially enhanced by the globalization of technology and information. While the US security studies field has made reference to many of these issues, a more systematic under- standing of globalization’s security effects is lacking.7 […]

Agency and scope of threats

The most far-reaching security effect of globalization is its complication of the basic concept of‘threat’ in international relations.This is in terms of both agency and scope. Agents of threat can be states but can also be non-state groups or individuals. While the vocabulary of conflict in international security traditionally centered on interstate war (e.g. between large set-piece battalions and national armed forces), with global- ization, terms such as global violence and human security become common parlance, where the fight is between irregular substate units such as ethnic militias, paramilitary guerrillas, cults and religious organizations, organized crime, and terrorists. Increasingly, targets are not exclusively opposing force structures or even cities, but local groups and individuals (Buzan, 1997a: 6–21; Klare, 1998: 66; Nye, 1989;

Väyrynen, 1998;Wæver et al., 1993).

Similarly, security constituencies, while nominally defined by traditional sover- eign borders increasingly are defined at every level from the global to the regional to the individual. […] Thus the providers of security are still nationally defined in terms of capabilities and resources; however, increasingly they apply these in a post- sovereign space whose spectrum ranges from nonstate to substate to transstate arrangements. For this reason, security threats become inherently more difficult to measure, locate, monitor, and contain (Freedman, 1998a: 56; Reinicke, 1997: 134). Globalization widens the scope of security as well. As the Copenhagen school has noted, how states conceive of security and how they determine what it means to be secure in the post-ColdWar era expand beyond military security at the national level.8

Globalization’s effects on security scope are distinct from those of the post-Cold War in that the basic transaction processes engendered by globalization – instantaneous communication and transportation, exchanges of information and technology, flow of capital – catalyze certain dangerous phenomena or empower certain groups in ways unimagined previously. In the former category are things such as viruses and pollution. Because of human mobility, disease has become much more of a transna- tional security concern.9 Global warming, ozone depletion, acid rain, biodiversity loss, and radioactive contamination are health and environmental problems that have intensified as transnational security concerns precisely because of increased human mobility and interaction (Matthew & Shambaugh, 1998; Väyrynen, 1998; Zurn, 1998).

Globalization also has given rise to a ‘skill revolution’ that enhances the capabili- ties of groups such as drug smugglers, political terrorists, criminal organizations, and ethnic insurgents to carry out their agenda more effectively than ever before (Arquilla & Ronfeldt, 1996; Brown, 1998: 4–5; Godson, 1997; Klare, 1998; Rosenau, 1998: 21–23; Shinn, 1996: 38). It is important to note that the widening scope of security to these transnational issues is not simply a short-term fixation with the end of bipolar Cold War competition as the defining axis for security. The threat posed by drugs, terrorism, transnational crime, and environmental degradation has been intensified precisely because of globalization. Moreover, the security solutions to these problems in terms of enforcement or containment increasingly are ineffective through national or unilateral means.10

Globalization has ignited identity as a source of conflict.The elevation of regional and ethnic conflict as a top-tier security issue has generally been treated as a function of the end of the Cold War. However, it is also a function of globalization.The process of globalization carries implicit homogenization tendencies and messages,11 which in combination with the ‘borderlessness’ of the globalization phenomenon elicits a cul- tural pluralist response.12

At the same time, globalization has made us both more aware and less decisive about our motivations to intervene in such ethnic conflicts. Real-time visual images of horror and bloodshed in far-off places transmitted through CNN make the conflicts impossible to ignore, creating pressures for intervention. On the other hand, the hesitancy to act is palpable, as standard measures by which to determine intervention (i.e. bipolar competition in the periphery) are no longer appropriate, forcing us to grope with fuzzy motivations such as humanitarian intervention.

Non-physical security

Globalization has anointed the concept of non-physical security. Traditional defini- tions of security in terms of protection of territory and sovereignty, while certainly not irrelevant in a globalized era, expand to protection of information and technology assets. For example, Nye and Owens (1998) cite ‘information power’ as increasingly defining the distribution of power in international relations in the 21st century. In a similar vein, the revolution in military affairs highlights not greater firepower but greater information technology and ‘smartness’ of weapons as the defining advantage for future warfare.13

These non-physical security aspects have always been a part of the traditional national defense agenda. […] However, the challenge posed by globalization is that the nation-state can no longer control the movement of technology and information (Simon, 1997). Strategic alliances form in the private sector among leading corpora- tions that are not fettered by notions of techno-nationalism and driven instead by competitive, cost-cutting, or cutting-edge innovative needs. The result is a transna- tionalization of defense production that further reduces the state’s control over these activities.14

More and more private companies, individuals, and other non-state groups are the producers, consumers, and merchants of a US$50 billion per year global arms market (Klare & Lumpe, 1998).The end of the Cold War has certainly been a permis- sive condition for the indiscriminate, profit-based incentives to sell weapons or dual- use technologies to anybody. But globalization of information and technology has made barriers to non-state entry low and detection costs high. Moreover, while enforcement authorities still have the benefit of these technologies, two critical devel- opments have altered the equation: (1) Absence of discrimination: over the past two decades, the private sector, rather than the government, has become the primary creator of new technologies, which in essence has removed any relative advantages state agencies formerly possessed in terms of exclusive access to eavesdropping tech- nology, surveillance, and encryption.15 Governments once in the position of holding monopolies on cutting edge technologies that could later be ‘spun off’ in the national commercial sector are now consumers of ‘spin-on’ technologies. (2)Volume and vari- ety: the sheer growth in volume and variety of communications has overwhelmed any attempts at monitoring or control (Mathews, 1997; Freedman, 1999: 53).16 […]

Intermestic security

[…] Globalization creates an interpenetration of foreign and domestic issues that national governments must recognize in developing policy. One example of this ‘intermestic’ approach to security policy might be an acceptance that the transnation- alization of threats has blurred traditional divisions between internal and external security (Katzenstein, 1996).The obverse would be the frequency with which a state adheres to ‘delimiting’ security, formulating and justifying policy on the basis of ‘national security’ interests rather than universal/global interests (Moon Chung-in, 1995: 64). […]


[…] As noted above, globalization means that both the agency and scope of threats have become more diverse and non-state in form. This also suggests that the payoffs lessen for obtaining security through traditional means. Controlling pollution, disease, technology, and information transfer cannot be easily dealt with through national, unilateral means but can only be effectively dealt with through the application of national resources in multilateral fora or through encouragement of transnational cooperation. […]

Thus one would expect globalized security processes reflected in a state’s striving for regional coordination and cooperative security. It should emphasize not exclusivity and bilateralism in relations but inclusivity and multilateralism as the best way to solve security problems. At the extreme end of the spectrum, globalization might downplay the importance of eternal iron-clad alliances and encourage the growth of select trans- national ‘policy coalitions’ among national governments, nongovernmental organiza- tions (NGOs), and individuals specific to each problem (Reinicke, 1997: 134).

In conjunction with multilateralism, globalized conceptions of security should be reflected in norms of diffuse reciprocity and international responsibility.This is admit- tedly more amorphous and harder to operationalize.While some self-serving instru- mental motives lie behind most diplomacy, there must be a strong sense of global responsibility and obligation that compels the state to act.Actions taken in the national interest must be balanced with a basic principle that contributes to a universal, glo- balized value system underpinning one’s own values. […]

Bureaucratic innovation

[…] [There] is the trend toward greater specialization in the pursuit of security. As globalization makes security problems more complex and diverse, national security structures need to be re-oriented, sometimes through elimination of anachronistic bureaucracies or through rationalization of wasteful and overlapping ones. […]

Another trend engendered by the security challenges of globalization is greater cross-fertilization between domestic law enforcement and foreign policy agencies. This relationship, at least in the USA (less the case in Europe), is at worst non-existent because domestic law enforcement has operated traditionally in isolation from national security and diplomatic concerns, or at best is a mutually frustrating relation- ship because the two have neither inclination nor interest in cooperating. States that understand the challenges of globalization, particularly on issues of drug-trafficking, environmental crimes, and technology transfer, will seek to bridge this gap, creating and capitalizing on synergies that develop between the two groups. Foreign policy agencies will seek out greater interaction with domestic agencies, not only on a prag- matic short-term basis employing law enforcement’s skills to deal with a particular problem, but also on a longer-term and regular basis cultivating familiarity, transpar- ency, and common knowledge. On the domestic side, agencies such as the FBI, Customs, and police departments (of major cities) would find themselves engaged in foreign policy dialogues, again not only at the practitioner’s level, but also in aca- demia and think-tank forums.17

One of the longer-term effects of specialization and cross-fertilization is that security also becomes more ‘porous.’ Specialization will often require changes not just at the sovereign national level, but across borders and with substate actors. ‘Boilerplate’ security (e.g. dealt with by ‘hardshell’ nation-states with national resources) becomes increasingly replaced by cooperation and coordination that may still be initiated by the national government but with indispensable partners (depending on the issue) such as NGOs, transnational groups, and the media.The obverse of this dynamic also obtains. With globalization, specialized ‘communities of choice’ (e.g. landmine ban) are empowered to organize transnationally and penetrate the national security agendas with issues that might not otherwise have been paid attention to (Guehenno, 1999: 9; Mathews, 1997).

Aggregating capabilities

The globalization literature remains relatively silent on how globalization processes substantially alter the way in which states calculate relative capabilities. The single most important variable in this process is the diffusion of technology (both old and new). In the past, measuring relative capabilities was largely a linear process. Higher technology generally meant qualitatively better weapons and hence stronger capa- bilities. States could be assessed along a ship-for-ship, tank-for-tank, jet-for-jet com- parison in terms of the threat posed and their relative strength based on such linear measurements. However, the diffusion of technology has had distorting effects.While states at the higher end technologically still retain advantages, globalization has enabled wider access to technology such that the measurement process is more dynamic. First, shifts in relative capabilities are more frequent and have occurred in certain cases much earlier than anticipated. Second, and more significant, the mea- surement process is no longer one-dimensional in the sense that one cannot readily draw linear associations between technology, capabilities, and power. For example, what gives local, economically backward states regional and even global influence in the 21st century is their ability to threaten across longer distances. Globalization facilitates access to select technologies related to force projection and weapons of mass destruction, which in turn enable states to pose threats that are asymmetric and disproportionate to their size. Moreover, these threats emanate not from acquisition of state-of-the-art but old and outdated technology. Thus countries like North Korea, which along most traditional measurements of power could not compare, can with old technology (SCUD and rudimentary nuclear technology) pose threats and affect behavior in ways unforeseen in the past (Bracken, 1998).

Strategies and operational considerations

Finally, the literature on globalization is notably silent on the long-term impact of globalization processes on time-tested modes of strategic thinking and fighting. In the former vein, the widening scope of security engendered by globalization means that the definition of security and the fight for it will occur not on battlefields but in unconventional places against non-traditional security adversaries. […] [T]he nature of these conflicts may also require new ways of fighting, i.e. the ability to engage militarily with a high degree of lethality against combatants, but low levels of collat- eral damage.As a result, globalization’s widening security scope dictates not only new strategies (discussed below) but also new forms of combat. […]

Regarding strategy, as the agency and scope of threats diversifies in a globalized world, traditional modes of deterrence become less relevant. Nuclear deterrence throughout the Cold War and post-Cold War eras, for example, was based on certain assumptions. First, the target of the strategy was another nation-state. Second, this deterred state was assumed to have a degree of centralization in the decisionmaking process over nuclear weapons use. Third, and most important, the opponent pos- sessed both counterforce and countervalue targets that would be the object of a second strike.While this sort of rationally based, existential deterrence will still apply to interstate security, the proliferation of weaponized non-state and substate actors increasingly renders this sort of strategic thinking obsolete.They do not occupy sov- ereign territorial space and therefore cannot be targeted with the threat of retaliation. They also may operate as self-contained cells rather than an organic whole which makes decapitating strikes at a central decisionmaking structure ineffective. […]

Governments may respond to this in a variety of ways. One method would be, as noted above, greater emphasis on the specialized utilization of whatever state, sub- state, and multilateral methods are necessary to defend against such threats. A second likely response would be greater attention and resources directed at civil defense preparation and ‘consequence’ management to minimize widespread panic and pain in the event of an attack.A third possible response is unilateral in nature. Governments may increasingly employ pre-emptive or preventive strategies if rational deterrence does not apply against non-state entities. Hence one might envision two tiers of secu- rity in which stable rational deterrence applies at the state – state level but unstable pre-emptive/preventive strategies apply at the state-non-state level. […]


  • See Held (1997: 253). As Rosenau (1996: 251) writes, ‘It refers neither to values nor structures but to sequences that unfold either in the mind or behavior, to inter- action processes that evolve as people and organizations go about their daily tasks and seek to realize their particular ’
  • See Mittelman (1994: 427). Or as Goldblatt et (1997: 271) note:‘Globalization denotes a shift in the spatial form and extent of human organization and interaction to a transcontinental or interregional level. It involves a stretching of social rela- tions across time and space such that day-to-day activities are increasingly influ- enced by events happening on the other side of the globe and the practices and decisions of highly localized groups and institutions can have significant global reverberations.’
  • Examples of the non-security bias in the US literature on globalization include Mittelman (1994); Goldblatt et al. (1997); Reinicke (1997); Rosenau (1996); Nye & Owens (1998); Talbott (1997); Falk (1997); Ohmae (1993); Held (1997).
  • Representative of works looking at changing definitions of security at the end of the Cold War are Walt (1991); Gray (1992); Deudney (1990); Chipman (1992); Nye (1989); Lipschutz (1995).
  • For debates on selective engagement and pre-emptive drawback strategies, see Layne (1997); Ruggie (1997). See also Huntington (1999); Betts (1998). On pre- ventive defense see Carter & Perry (1999). European international relations litera- ture that has looked at the post-Cold War effects of security (as distinct from globalization’s effects on security) include Kirchner & Sperling (1998); Leatherman & Väyrynen (1995); Buzan (1997a).
  • For the seminal work, see Mueller (1989). See also Mandelbaum (1999); Van Creveld (1991).
  • For a more comprehensive and useful characterization of security studies, see Buzan (1997a), although this categorization takes the post-Cold War rather than globalization as its point of
  • See Buzan (1997a). For applications, see Haas (1995); Cha (1997).
  • For example, the re-emergence of tuberculosis and malaria as health hazards has been related to the development of resistant strains in the South (because of black- market abuses of inoculation treatments), which then reentered the developed North through human
  • As Matthew & Shambaugh argue, it is not the luxury of the Soviet collapse that enables us to elevate the importance of transnational security but the advances in human mobility, communication, and technology that force us See Matthew & Shambaugh (1998: 167). A related example of how security agency and scope have changed is the privatized army. These groups are not a new phenomenon in inter- national politics, dating back to the US revolutionary war (i.e. Britain’s hiring of Hessian soldiers) and the Italian city-states of the 14th century (i.e. the condottiers). However, their salience today is a function of the changes wrought by the globaliza- tion of technology. Increasingly, national armies are retooled to fight high-intensity, high-technology conflicts and less equipped to fight low-intensity conflicts in peripheral areas among ethnic groups where the objectives in entering battle are unclear.This development, coupled with the decreasing Cold War era emphasis on the periphery and the absence of domestic support for casualties in such places, has made the ‘jobbing-out’ of war increasingly salient. See Shearer (1998); Silverstein (1997); Thomson (1996).
  • Examples of homogenization impulses include the diffusion of standardized con- sumer goods generally from the developed North; Western forms of capitalism (and not Asian crony capitalism); and Western liberal democracy (not illiberal democracy).
  • As Falk (1997: 131–32) states, ‘The rejection of these globalizing tendencies in its purest forms is associated with and expressed by the resurgence of religious and ethnic politics in various extremist configurations. Revealingly, only by retreating to premodern, traditionalist orientations does it now seem possible to seal off sov- ereign territory, partially at least, from encroachments associated with globalized lifestyles and business operations’. See also Mittelman (1994: 432); Guehenno (1999: 7); and Wæver et al. (1993).
  • These are defined in terms of things such as ISR (intelligence collection, surveil- lance, and reconnaissance), C4I, and precision force that can provide superior situ- ational awareness capabilities (e.g. dominant battlespace knowledge; ‘pre-crisis transparency’). See Nye & Owens (1998); Cohen (1996); Freedman (1998b); Laird & Mey (1999). Freedman correctly points out that the emphasis on information and technology is not in lieu of, but in conjunction with, superior physical military The former cannot compensate for the latter. See Freedman (1999: 51–52).
  • As Goldblatt et point out, MNCS now account for a disproportionately large share of global technology transfer as a result of FDI; joint ventures; international patenting; licensing; and knowhow agreements. This means they are more in con- trol of transferring dual-use technologies than traditional states. See Goldblatt et al. (1997: 277–79).
  • On the growing commercial pressure for liberalization of encryption technology, see Freeh (1997). See also Falkenrath (1998: 56–57); Corcoran (1998: 13). On the growing reliance of the US Defense Department on commercial technological advances compared with the 1950–70s, see Carter & Perry (1999: 197–98).
  • The results of this are well known: instantaneous communication by facsimile, cel- lular phone, satellite phone, teleconferencing, alpha-numeric pagers, e-mail, com- puter moderns, computer bulletin boards, and federal express are the norm. Approximately 250,000 Global Positioning System satellite navigation receivers are sold each month for commercial
  • In this vein, it might not be unusual in the future to see the commissioner of New

York City Police or the head of the FBI participating in discussions of the Council on Foreign Relations or the Brookings Institution.


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SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Relations in addition to a Master's degree in International Security Studies. Alongside this, I have a passion for web development. During my studies, I acquired a strong understanding of fundamental political concepts and theories in international relations, security studies, and strategic studies.

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