On 11 September 1990, President George H. W. Bush argued in a speech to Congress that a “new world order” was in the making. Two essential components of this new order in international affairs were globalization and the use of U.N. authority and U.S. power to protect nations at peace from aggressive neighbors. Reinforcing and defining this new order was an essential element of U.S. policy, even after 9/11.
But four developments call into question whether this new order will survive. One is the way China has abused its enterprises’ access to U.S. markets, thereby undermining the concept of free and unsubsidized trade that was the cornerstone of globalization. The second development is the rise of authoritarian regimes that care more about raw power than the benefits of globalization. The third is the lack of worldwide confidence in international finance. The fourth is the way governments and criminals have assaulted the Internet, turning what was supposed to be an essential framework for globalization into an arena for crime and for spreading hatred and violence.
The U.S. Navy fit readily into globalization. The service would police the seas, facilitating the international commerce that was at the heart of U.S. globalization policy. The Navy and Marine Corps also would deter aggression and conflict, two threats to globalization. To fulfill the mission of sustaining globalization, the Navy and Marines (and eventually even the Coast Guard) would have to be forward-deployed, able to shield seaborne commerce from piracy and able to quickly dampen regional conflicts.
The key assumption behind U.S. support for globalization was that a “rising tide would lift all boats,” giving leaders of many nations an incentive to play by the rules of the new global order and giving the United States the wealth to maintain a large and forward-deployed maritime force. Globalization was “sold” as a means of improving living standards worldwide and therefore dampening the social tensions and mass migrations that could lead to conflict between nations. But globalization would work only if governments played by the rules, and globalization’s most basic rule was that governments needed to refrain from economic warfare as well as military and diplomatic bullying. Today, strong authoritarian regimes are openly violating that rule. They can do so because there is no international organization with the power to stop them, or to stop the growing wave of Internet crime.
If you think of globalization as a “new world order,” then that order has been undermined, and the more it is undermined—whether by cheating, incompetence, or force—the more it will be undermined. What does all this have to do with the Navy and Marines? Weakening globalization robs the U.S. maritime forces of much of their relevance. The Navy can police the sea lanes, and the Marines can continue to serve as an effective and powerful amphibious and counterinsurgency force, but the future of serious international “conflict” is predominantly economic, informational, and cybernetic.
In their Proceedings article “Time for a U.S. Cyber Force,” (January 2014, pp. 40–44), retired Admiral James Stavridis and David Weinstein argued that the nation needs a “cyber service” equal in importance (though obviously not in size) to the existing military services. You may disagree with their proposal; I do. But they do have a point: An “old order” is ending, there is no international organization that can really protect it, and therefore it’s time to do something different.
Globalization is under attack. It may even be slipping away. Globalization’s “empire” is not an empire of territory and political control. It is one of commerce, information, and economic competition, and much of what happens in that empire is carried on digitally.
In the absence of an effective “international digital regulator,” what does the United States need? Congress has constrained defense spending as part of an effort to help stabilize the nation’s economy. This is a narrow approach—strategic in intent but not posing a serious challenge to those who are out to break globalization. But what alternative or complementary approaches can the Navy and the Marines provide as their contribution? It has to be much more than a desire to build more ships. It has to be an idea, and this new idea has to either “save” globalization or create something new.