“When goods don’t cross borders, soldiers will”
This old liberal saying, going back almost a century, has sadly been either forgotten or ignored by most politicians of our age. After several decades of relatively free trade, interdependence between countries has grown like never before. This growth has been coupled by a decline in warfare between them, something a liberal would undoubtedly form into a causal relationship. Though this sometimes leads to the risk of determinism and over-simplification, the idea behind it is still a powerful and accurate one. I would not fight with someone upon whom I depend for my daily requirements, and even if I did I would not take it to a point where reconciliation becomes impossible; in short, in the lingo of politics, I would not declare war on them.
Ignorance of this great piece of liberal wisdom could bring the world to the brink of war, and unfortunately it seems to be doing just that. The Cold War remained ‘cold’ not only because both sides possessed nuclear weapons capable of causing mutually assured destruction, but also for the simple reason that they depended too much on each other. Countries in both the blocs still traded with each other, creating a scenario where the superpowers found it increasingly difficult to rely upon potential allies. Similar scenarios have prevented war on several occasions. But today, with competition at its highest between China and the USA, the wisdom of liberalism is being scrapped for more aggressive policies designed to downgrade rival power.
Chief among these attempts are the immense international trade deals planned by the two powers. The Trans-Pacific Partnership(TPP) envisaged by the United States deliberately leaves out the biggest economy in Asia, it’s adversary China. The exclusion of China, at first sight, seems to be a brilliant strategy of containment as bolstering up the economies of the neighbouring countries would, according to US policy makers, deter China from aggressive moves. Reality, however, seems to be far from it. The Chinese are, on the contrary, more aggressive than ever and have started flexing their muscles in the region. As the TPP talks progress, so too does China’s pugnacious behaviour. It has become much more ready to violate existing territorial boundaries, moving an oil rig into Vietnamese waters with an alacrity which left US think-tanks shocked beyond measure. The problem arises from the fact that as the prospects of trade between China and its neighbouring countries diminish, as it inevitably will thanks to the TPP’s exclusionary feature, the interdependence between China and these countries will start to erode. Once this happens, and reaches a certain extent, China may no longer have second-thoughts about declaring war on them. This is not to say that a decline in interdependence will lead directly to war; it won’t. But it surely makes the international situation more susceptible to war; a single spark could spell doom for millions.
But the ill-effects of such exclusion wouldn’t stop there. China, at present, depends heavily on these countries as they provide immense markets for exports. A threat to these could propel it to take a more aggressive stance or try to combat US plans with strategies of its own. China has already started increasing trade initiatives with other Asian countries, and has developed grand plans for the future. The New Silk Road, announced by its president in November 2014, attempts to boost trade and development across the entire Eurasian landmass and also encompasses Africa. Perhaps as a reaction to the TPP, this plan excludes the US. If this sort of economic warfare were to continue and, in all likeliness, intensify then military warfare wouldn’t be too far behind.
The two countries depend greatly on each other today and are major trade partners. The prospects of war seem slim in the near future perhaps because of this great interdependence. But were the two powers to reduce this and instead seek out exclusionary economic spheres of their own, a war could very well be precipitated. The old liberal adage has value in it; heeding it could save us another destructive century.