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Globalization and Non-Military Warfare: Meeting a New Era and Moving away from Traditional Military

By Damien Manier


Following World War II a new era began of dueling super powers: America against the Soviet Union, which turned into a battle between capitalism and communism. During this period America “set out to forge an open international trading system…for opening markets and fostering trade around the world” (Friedman, xix). And later with the fall of the Berlin wall and the “Information Revolution” in the 1980s that “made it possible for so many more people to act globally, communicate globally, travel globally and sell globally” a new era was ushered in at the end of the Cold War, globalization (Friedman, xix and 7). This new era of globalization has only one super power, the United States, but also has many more actors on the international stage since individuals, transnational corporations, and multi-national organization all play increasingly important roles and the will and sovereignty of nation states, once the almost exclusive international actors, are experiencing fleeting influence on their own.

This new era has serious implications for America’s national security and requires that top policy makers take what Friedman, in Lexus and the Olive Tree, referred to as a “globalist” point of view on the world. Friedman notes that in this new era of interconnectedness that the “traditional boundaries between politics, culture, technology, finance, national security and ecology are disappearing” (Friedman, 20). In the 1991 report “The National Security Strategy of the United States” the first Bush administration “attempted to communicate the idea that American economic well-being was included in the definition of national security” (Jordan et al, 85). This was shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall and a sign of America’s early understanding that we were entering a new era, even if we did barely understand what that entailed. Friedman has expanded the dimensions beyond just a connection between economics and national security to the “six lenses” point of view mentioned above. Another important aspect of this new era according to Friedman is the change in the “balance between nation states and individuals” where more power is given to individuals to “influence both markets and nation-states than at any time in history” (Friedman, 14) This new power afforded individuals has allowed private organizations like al-Qaeda to grow on a massive and international scale to a point that it threatens and influences the policy of the developed world.

Globalization is a mostly positive thing, but that is outside the scope of this paper and means very little since globalization can not be stopped and is the era that replaced the Cold War era. And it is true, as Chinese Generals Liang and Xiangsu write in Unrestricted Warfare, that “global terrorist activities is one the by products of the globalization trend” and that these “non-professional warriors and non-state organizations are posing a greater and greater threat to sovereign nations” (48). These Generals were also in the forefront in recognizing that traditional or military warfare may be losing its effectiveness in this new era.

The Move towards Non-Military Warfare

Globalization is a primary motivator in the trend toward non-military warfare since it enables individuals and other non-state actors to act at an international level, which can not compete militarily but have found creative ways to influence the policy of nation states and other international actors. However, globalization does not take exclusive credit for this trend. There are three other reasons that the era of traditional military warfare may be coming to an end.

At the end of the Cold War the U.S. emerged as the sole super power. This status was applicable in almost every way since the U.S. had a global hegemony and the largest economy. However, this especially applies to the U.S. military that is unrivaled in the world. Some were assured of this reality during the first Gulf War. While many Americans may have saw the first Gulf War as a quick campaign with not as much significance as some of the greater wars in history, but Chinese Generals Liang and Xiangsu saw the first Gulf War as a sign that was futile to challenge the U.S. in a traditional military sense. The U.S. military was able to quickly mobilize, with strong international backing, and repel the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in just over a month. The U.S. primarily fought an air campaign with a short ground war resulting in very few casualties for coalition forces. This presentation of the sheer strength of the U.S. military will likely lead others who seek to challenge the power of the U.S. to find outside of traditional military warfare. This became evidenced during the Iraq War that the U.S. is engaged in now. In 2003, the invasion of Iraq seemed to go quite well, with U.S. military taking over Baghdad before expected and with much less resistance then expected. The U.S. had another amazing traditional military victory. However, the greatest fighting has come since the defeat of Saddam Hussein in the form of a different kind of warfare, terrorism.

America’s military might may be a motivator for many who feel threatened by U.S. hegemony or whose interests conflict with it, but America and its allies also have motivation for finding alternatives to traditional military warfare. In American National Security, Amos Jordan et al describe “limited war” and the cause of it. They write that “most early wars were conducted with limited means in the pursuit of limited objective” (259). The wars were limited primarily by the means and the elites who waged the wars of that era usually sought maximum carnage for the means they had available. However, in more recent eras “sheer material weakness ceased to be an inevitable governor on the engine of war” (259). This meant that war was no longer limited by the means and could be pursued up to the utter destruction of a nation or even the world as was part of the ideology of “mutually assured destruction” during the Cold War. However, even with seemingly limitless resources warfare was not unrestricted because the resources came from a higher productivity, primarily from the private sector, that led to a “diffusion of political power from aristocratic elites to the middle classes…the result was to limit the freedom of government elites to frame war aims” (259). Governments had to listen to the people who would be fighting the war, or whose children would fight, since the government now depended on them to fund the war. This shift in power from elites to the masses has curbed the desire for war greatly and has placed new limits on warfare to replace those lost when means were no longer a problem. However, the limits described by Jordan et al focus primarily on traditional military warfare, which may consequently lead to the expansion of the entire concept of warfare to achieve war aims in spite of these limitations.

Throughout the history of warfare “efforts to improve weapons have primarily been to boost their lethal power”; however the development of nuclear weapons “gave mankind lethal capabilities that exceeded the demand” (Liang and Xiangsu, 26). Since the development and use of the atom bomb during World War II, and as people grew more and more horrified of the results of wars and sought further limits on warfare, a trend towards “kinder” weapons has emerged. This trend has led to the development of laser guided missiles and smart bombs that minimize collateral damage. This is quite different to the tactics of carpet bombing and the expectations of mass casualties associated with previous eras. Chinese Generals Liang and Xiangsu believe that this move away from lethal weapon is part of an evolution towards warfare being conducted primarily outside the realm of military operations; they also warn that this may not be something to celebrate. “Even if someday all the weapons have been made completely humane, a kinder war in which bloodshed may be avoided is still war. It may alter the cruel process of war, but there is no way to change the essence of war, which is one of compulsion, and therefore it cannot alter its cruel outcome, either” (Liang and Xiangsu, 30). They also warn that “when mankind focuses more attention on calling for peace and limiting wars, many of the things whose origins were peaceful will (italicized words were rephrased due to odd translation) all begin one after another to change into lethal weapons to destroy peace” (Liang and Xiangsu, 128). Human desires or needs that require warfare will always exist, however, the way we conduct warfare and the weapons we use to achieve those aims may change over time. Currently, there is a move away from traditional military warfare towards other forms of warfare whose end results are still cruel. The U.S. will need to recognize and even utilize these new forms of warfare to maintain super power status and eventually in order to survive.

New Warfare

“Everything that can benefit mankind can also harm him. This is to say that there is nothing in the world today that cannot become a weapon, and this requires that our understanding of weapons must have an awareness that breaks through all boundaries…a single man-made stock market crash, a single computer virus invasion, or a single rumor or scandal that results in a fluctuation in the enemy country’s exchange rates or exposes the leaders of an enemy country on the Internet, all can be included in the ranks of new-concept weapons” (Liang and Xiangsu, 25). Similar events to those described in Unrestricted Warfare are taking place today and have been taking place for several years. However, they are not usually viewed as being new weapons or acts of war. Also, this new kind of warfare often allows for the use of proxies, networks, transnational or international organizations, and individuals to deflect criticisms or direct responses against the state and sometimes the governments truly are not involved in the acts of aggression. This makes it very hard for the countries under attack by these new forms of warfare to respond appropriately since it may not be possible to know who exactly was the aggressor or the degree to which governments were involved. However, as long as we operate in a traditional military paradigm of warfare, we will not be able to develop a consistent policy for responses to the new forms of warfare or how we go about assessing who is to be held to account for actions against the U.S.

Generals Liang and Xiangsu mention actions that “results in a fluctuation in the enemy country’s exchange rate” as a new concept weapon. Recently, similar actions were taken by Iran who shifted their foreign reserves from dollars to Euros, almost all oil in the world is sold in dollars creating a high demand for dollars and thus stabilizing the value of the dollar. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/6190865.stm) The move was long expected due to U.S. pressure on Iran and sanctions brought against Iran and in response to further sanctions sought by the U.S. Both the sanctions by the U.S. and the dollar reserve dumps by the Iranians could be seen as new-concept weapons in a new kind of warfare. However, in this instance neither country is using them as weapons in a war but they are viewing them as alternatives to war or ways to influence each other before war becomes necessary. This view dilutes the power and effectiveness of the measures, for better or worse, and prevents them from being effectively used in concert with other forms of warfare, both new and traditional. Now imagine the potential weapon China has, China has around 600 billion dollars in their reserves, if they wanted to attack U.S. currency. That’s a huge deterrent to U.S. actions against China, knowing that China could flood the international market with its dollars reserves and cause huge fluctuations in our currency and do major harm to our economy. Another example is when George Soros, a manager or a large Hedge fund, believed the British pound to be overvalued. The British government denied this speculation. In response, “Soros led the herd (hedge funds and speculators) in a campaign to force the British pound down to its “right” level.” The British government “raised a white flag and devalued the pound by 12 percent” (Friedman, 328). Now if an individual can now compel governments to change their exchange rates, what could a government working with similarly powerful individuals do together with the intent of using these types of actions as weapons?

The potential harm, benefits and collateral damage associated with these new-concept weapons have not been realized yet and so unintended consequences could be high. Evidence of this can be seen in the Asian financial crisis, where Hedge funds and investors sought to make profits at the expense of Thailand, whose currency the baht was believed to be overvalued. However, many ended up losing lots of money as the crisis in Thailand as their dollar reserves were emptied spread to Korea, Japan, and other Asian countries. Eventually it hit Russia whose many efforts to keep from crashing were futile. The investors were hit hard and begin cashing out their investments in Latin America to make up for their losses in Asia and Russia which led to economic hardships in Latin America. The U.S. was also hit since many of the investors and banks losing money were American. While these were private investors and the actions were not necessarily acts of warfare, the results still demonstrate possible consequences or effects of using similar techniques as weapons. Jordan et al makes this point when they describe the potential dangers of using “economic warfare, stating that “interdependence makes it possible, even probable that if you try to hurt an adversary by economic means, you will end up hurting yourself” (310). The complexity and the unfamiliarity with these potentially new weapons and forms of warfare or even the lack of understanding of the current era we operate within should give us pause when considering new strategies for national security. However, we can not prevent all international actors from using new concept weapons recklessly and if we hope to effectively utilize all possible weapons and diplomatic tools in the future to maximize desired results while minimizing undesired consequences we will need to put forth the effort to study all the possible new weapons and threats of this era. The United States is probably in the best position to do this if it makes the effort.

Maintaining Super Power Status in the New Era

The United States was leading the international community when it came to establishing various international organizations to encourage and regulate international trade. The United States is also the largest contributor to the U.N. where it has veto power and is an influential member of many other international organizations including regional organizations such as Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). Since the end of the Cold War the U.S., knowingly or not, has been building infrastructure that aptly prepares it for this new kind of warfare and it has utilized these resources for similar purposes in recent history. For example, after the Asian financial crisis “the United States advocated the implementation of a rescue plan, with strings attached, by way of the International Monetary Fund, of which it is a major shareholder. The implication was that Asian countries should be forced to accept the economic liberalization policy promoted by the United States” (Liang and Xiangsu, 186). While these actions were obviously not intended as warfare they were a way for the U.S. to compel countries to do what the U.S. wanted them to.

Although the infrastructure exists to allow the United States to maintain its super power status with the most powerful military as well as being the most capable to execute non-military warfare, America also has a “preference for diluting its power within the UN and other organs of an embryo world government” (Steyn, xxiii). This is a part of American culture where limited government is a celebrated tenet of our history. However, domestic government is limited by the people because it is ruled by the people. This principle should not extend the United States being limited by the international community unless we intend to be ruled by the international community. Mark Steyn in his recent book, America Alone, writes about American guilt over its own power and how the spread of Western values and ideas has been skewed to the point that it is viewed as imperialism. He writes: “I wish we did represent imperialism, at least to this extent: there’s a lot to be said for a great nation that understands its greatness is not an accident and that therefore it should spread the secrets of its success around; conversely, there’s not much to be said for a great nation that chooses to hobble itself by pretending it’s merely one vote among co-equals on international bodies manned by Cuba...” (xxvii). If America wants to maintain its super power status it needs to stop feeling guilty about its success and influence and step up to its role as leader of the free world or else others will challenge the U.S. for the role and freedom may not be their top priority.


The role of traditional military action is not extinct its just changing. General Sir Rupert Smith (retired) wrote about the believers in the paradigm of industrial (traditional) warfare, he wrote in Utility of Force that “the principles and the ethos they represent have become an obstacle to using military force with utility since they are based on flawed assumptions that have nonetheless become written in stone. Take as an example the idea that ‘commitment of force should be the last resort’” (Smith, 312). He argues that instead of using these flawed assumptions or paradigms that are linked to industrial warfare, we should instead use the military to “establish a condition” in which other methods, such as the new weapons or forms of warfare can be used. For example, he suggests the military be used “to create a condition in which humanitarian activity could take place” or a “condition in which a new regime could be created by other means” (Smith, 273). We have entered a new era and we must begin thinking outside existing paradigms and developing strategies based on current realities and not rely on methods on the past. There are new lessons to be learnt and we have a long way to go before we fully understand what we face in the era of Globalization. Sovereignty will have to be redefined to reflect current realities and we will have to prepare to face enemies “who look a lot like al Qaeda: transnational, globalized, locally franchised, extensively outsourced—but tied together through a powerful identity that leaps frontiers and continents” (Steyn, xxii). Who fights wars, where wars are fought, how they are fought, and what weapons are used to fight them have all changed and so must strategy adapt to meet these new challenges.


BBC News. “Dollar Dropped in Iran Asset Move.” BBC.CO.UK 18 Dec. 2006. 30 May. 2007. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/6190865.stm.

Friedman, Thomas L. The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization. 1999. Foreword to the Anchor Edition. New York: Anchor Books, 2000.

General Smith, Rupert. Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007.

Jordan, Amos A, William J. Taylor, Jr., and Michael J. Mazarr. American National Security. 1981. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.

Liang, Qiao, and Wang Xiangsui. Unrestricted Warfare. Trans. Foreign Broadcast Information Service. Beijing: PLA Literature and Arts Publishing House, 1999.

Steyn, Mark. America Alone: The End of the World as We Know it. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, Inc, 2006.

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